Education International
Education International

Germany: Concrete step towards the abolition of tuition fees

published 15 February 2013 updated 6 March 2013

The campaign to abolish tuition fees in Bavaria has taken a step forward with a referendum on the issue set to be organised. This follows on from 10 per cent of Bavaria’s eligible voters agreeing to a referendum on the abolition of tuition fees.

Within just two weeks, 14.4 per cent - 1.3 million eligible voters – agreed to the referendum. The quorum of 10 per cent was therefore achieved, allowing a referendum to be organised. Now, if the Bavarian Parliament does not abolish tuition fees itself, the next step will be a referendum on the issue itself.

According to opinion polls, two- thirds of all Bavarians are in favour of the abolition of tuition fees. These fees were introduced in Bavaria in 2007 by the Conservative party, CDU, and amount to up to €500 per semester.

GEW: People favour free education

“Those introducing tuition fees risk not only being voted out,” said Andreas Keller, Executive Board member of EI’s German affiliate Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, and responsible for University and Research. “When in doubt, citizens will also get involved in favour of free higher education via referendum. That is what Bavarians have strikingly made clear.

“Tuition fees cannot get majority support – for a good reason: Studies must not depend on one’s economic and financial situation, but be open to all people who are qualified to follow them.”

Queues to vote on referendum

The vote shows how overwhelming the rejection of tuition fees is among Bavarians: long queues formed at the city halls and voting locations in university cities such as Munich, Würzburg, Erlangen and Bamberg.

By citizens’ decision or parliamentary decision, the end of tuition fees in Bavaria is as good as sealed. With the change of government in Lower Saxony, which was – along with Bavaria – the last region to charge tuition fees, the end of this burden in the whole of Germany is within tangible reach.

EI: Financial-assistance programmes should be introduced

“EI and its affiliates strongly believe that higher education must be equally accessible to all, on the basis of their aptitudes,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.

He stressed that “it is the responsibility of states to promote and to guarantee the right to higher education by providing public funding that is sufficient to cover the full costs of education. Higher education is most equitably financed through public funding supported by a progressive income tax system.”

The introduction of and increases in tuition fees in higher education have led to rising student debt, van Leeuwen said. This has a negative social and economic impact, as high levels of debt affect students’ decisions to enter socially important but underpaid occupations. Consequently, for EI, the primary form of direct student financial assistance, including living allowances, should be needs-based grants.

“Tuition fees should not be charged to students,” van Leeuwen noted. “Where they exist, governments should commit to gradually reduce fees with the eventual goal of eliminating them in all sectors of higher education. Student financial-assistance programmes should provide opportunities for all qualified individuals to participate in higher education.”