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German University Students: Woe is Us!

January 21, 2008

Greetings from Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. I’ve successfully crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean twice, no worse for wear (other than being extremely tired) and with no customs & immigration hassles. The next few posts over the next day or two will more than likely revolve around the trip, so bear with me.

Upon arrival at the main train station in Frankfurt on Saturday afternoon, we had been warned by a lady at the tourist office that there was going to be a big demonstration that day and to avoid a certain area on the map. Being the obliging tourists that we were, we stuck around at the hotel and our comfy beds that night. Thinking we were in the clear, I decided to drag my fellow traveler Tim out of the hotel for an extended walking tour of Frankfurt. As we proceeded along the River Main toward the old town hall, we began to see an increasing police presence around the walking path along the river. As we got closer, the police presence became a swarm–literally hundreds of officers and police cars sitting around with riot gear at the ready.

The scene from in front of the Romer. Best viewed huge.

Given the fact that civil disturbances were not exactly our cup of tea, we both decided it would be good to head away from the area in the most direct route possible. It seemed that every public square in the entire city had at least two police cars, with most concentrated outside the Romer above.

Upon our return to the hotel, my curious mind wanted to know what the heck required the use of such force. Global warming? Anarchists? Anti-war activists?

Nope. UNIVERSITY STUDENTS were the ones doing the demonstrating. Apparently, the German government recently decided to enact a university tuition of a few hundred Euro a month. When I heard the reason, I literally cracked up. These students should come to the United States! We’d be happy to trade spots!

I shudder when I imagine students from UND doing something similar after a tuition hike. It might actually give the Grand Forks cops something to do! Of course, that would require a majority of us to care about things, which judging by recent participation in academics and related fields is not yet there.

If you’re interested in seeing my photos from the trip, head over to the Frankfurt Mileage Run set on my Flickr page.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. poetloverrebelspy permalink
    February 26, 2008 10:48 am

    I know it seems silly to us (paying thousands of dollars per year for our education), and having been a student in both systems, I can also argue that the German system would benefit from an influx of tuition if that money were funneled into the universities without any change in funding by the government.

    BUT . . .

    Imagine for a second that education was universally considered a right and not a privilege for those wealthy enough to afford it, wise enough to save for it, foolhardy enough to take out enormous loans for it. The Germans have long seen free universities as a social measure, guaranteeing equality of opportunity for all, rich or poor. Only recently — with the universities’ attempts to charge tuition fees — has this come before the courts. The German supreme court ruled that each state could decide for itself whether or not to charge tuition fees.

    I would be happy to see such solidarity between students of all classes at American universities. Tuition is rising far faster than inflation, pricing many students out of even public education. I’m not sure that I could have attended the university I did now without significant financial strain for myself and my family.

    Further, German students grew up expecting a free education. More importantly, they and their parents haven’t been saving for a paid one. There is no system of financial aid or student loans available beyond a Pell Grant-type system for the poorest students. There is no on-campus employment, making work-study a feasible option. It already takes many students far longer than 4 years to complete a BA — having to work to pay tuition will make the situation even worse. Lawmakers haven’t had time to respond, leaving many students in a difficult situation indeed.

    Hopefully this bit of background will help you better understand the unrest you witnessed. I came to Germany for graduate education in part because an American MA is an expensive and generally unfunded proposition. As I said before, an influx of tuition money would make their universities better, and I believe many students are willing to invest a reasonable amount in order to gain access to improved resources and infrastructure. However, if these changes are not accompanied by measures allowing all students to finance their education, you can perhaps agree they have something to protest about.

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