The feat of strength from 1972 cannot be repeated. Back then, the ministers also had the July 18 decision of the Federal Constitutional Court hanging over their heads. The decision obliged the federal government, or alternatively the states, to work out uniform regulations for university and college admissions “as quickly as possible.” The highest German court set almost insurmountable obstacles for these regulations: a limited number of slots, strict criteria for admissions, and these were tied to strict conditions, including full capacity use and no government management of demand. Lower Saxony’s Undersecretary for Higher Education Günter Wichert responded that “we are not permitted to intervene until the universities and colleges have expanded to death.” The judges also stipulated “a chance for every applicant who is technically qualified to enter an institution of higher learning.” In practice that means: anyone who is eligible, according to the government, has a “right to participate.”
In extensive decrees, agreements, and fat books, the ministers of education based the entitlement to study on the Abitur certification. Equivalency degrees, specialized secondary schools, and evening schools are measured according to its standard. Social prestige, upward mobility, and admission to a career in the civil service are still tied to the Abitur. But the certificate is increasingly losing its value, and the ministers of education are feeling pressure because they will be held responsible for the consequences.
Thus, the efforts of some SPD politicians in Bonn to revise admission procedures for universities in the Framework Act on Higher Education found fertile ground – slowly among the CDU. Klaus von Dohnanyi and his successor Helmut Rohde are betting on the revisions, not least to finally put an end to the four-year ordeal over this law. But the text, which was debated by Bundestag representatives on Thursday and Friday in the second and third readings, betrays not only uninspired educational policy-making, but also an inability to think a problem through to the end.
Like the state treaty, the new provision is also based on three key elements: “social hardship cases,” “achievement,” and “wait lists.” In the Ministry of Science and Education in Düsseldorf, the process whereby social hardship is determined is considered “totally absurd”: the universities assess the petitions and decide whether an applicant should receive a bonus of 0.1 points or more due to illness or family circumstances. Then the candidate is entered into the computer system in Dortmund. Since only 15 percent of applicants with a “hardship bonus” are accepted, however, the young people’s chances of admission depend on whether or not the computer gives them the luck of the draw. “It totally contradicts the point of helping an individual if we are forced to standardize hardship,” said the undersecretary.
The Bonn experts thought they had found the philosophers’ stone with wait lists. High school graduates with an Abitur were no longer supposed to wait around at university for the longed-for slot – they were supposed to work. The slogan “waiting on the job” met with public approval. It sounds very practical, popular, and voter friendly. The “total duration of employment or vocational training” is to be given special consideration in the application process for a university slot.