A higher education law for the future
The universities in the Free State of Bavaria are already outstanding teaching and research institutions. In addition to the performance of the individual university, the high quality standards of the legal framework also make a significant contribution to its success locally.
The last major amendment to the Bavarian Higher Education Act took place in 2006, more than 14 years ago. In recent decades, the framework conditions of the higher education landscape have undergone massive changes due to digital transformation, internationalization and the advancement of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in science and academia, so that structural changes have become necessary in some areas. We welcome the general intention to meet the needs of universities in today’s world through an innovative Higher Education Act and to make them fit for the challenges of the future. Under the guiding principle of the broadest possible freedom, the universities’ own responsibility is to be strengthened, the talents and competencies of the university members are to be promoted, and the high dynamics and innovative strength of the Bavarian universities are to be expanded.
According to the key points paper of the State Ministry for Science and the Arts, these goals are to be achieved by “maximum downsizing and deregulation” of the Higher Education Act. It is rather easy to fall into the trap of the “deregulation paradox”: It is suggested that universities can only develop their maximum potential by “liberating” themselves from legal regulations and are currently literally ” handcuffed” by an excessive regulatory frenzy. In fact, the opposite is true: a high-quality higher education law does not get lost in the minutiae of internal university governance. It does, however, set the broad guidelines, guarantees the participation of all status groups in internal university processes, thus promoting the acceptance of decisions and providing a framework for the development of the universities. It thereby ensures quality standards and quality enhancement at all levels. Our understanding of a strong Higher Education Act is based on the educational mandate enshrined in the German constitution and the state’s duty of care for its universities.
In the following sections, we would like to make our contribution to the success of the legislation reform and present the common vision of the students and the academic middle class of a democratic and responsible, but at the same time dynamic and innovative higher education landscape.
Universities as flagships of democracy in action
Internal democratic structures
In their prominent position as the center of social progress, universities are an essential building block of democracy in action. One of their success factors is their internal democratic body structure, which allows all status groups to participate in the self-administration of the university and to assume responsibility. The importance of the body structure was demonstrated not at least in the summer semester of 2020, when the universities faced enormous challenges due to the Corona pandemic. Thanks to the intensive and collegial cooperation of all status groups in the bodies, the semester was however successfully managed. The excellent teamwork between university management and the bodies as well as between the individual status groups and the State Ministry of Science and Art was emphasized and praised from all sides.
It would be a mistake to assume that this close cooperation was a unique novelty. Universities are particularly successful when they succeed in involving all status groups in their decisions and when people take joint responsibility: Regardless of whether the issue is quality assurance when appointing new professors, the quality of teaching or the development of study regulations, the participation of all status groups in the bodies is always of high importance and, through the input of mutual perspectives, leads to integrated and sustainable decisions. In order to be able to make efficient and quick decisions, a regulated division of the workload is indispensable. The Faculty Council generates academic input, the Senate deals with the university-wide perspective of the decision, and the university management ensures that the elaborations are in congruence with the overall strategy of the university. The bodies, as different levels of operations, are therefore not – as portrayed by some in the higher education landscape – an obstacle. On the contrary, they are an enrichment for the overall work at a university and ensure both the internal and the overall institution-wide quality of the decisions taken. A top-down structure would not only diminish the quality of decisions, but would also cause frustration on the part of all involved and a disengagement from any identification with one’s own university.
One of the factors of identification is the balanced gender ratio at all levels of the university, which we advocate. In order to reflect the diversity of university members in their bodies, we would like to encourage the use of the so-called cascade model. This model was developed by the German Research Foundation (DFG 2017) to permanently consider gender equality goals in appointment procedures. In our view, the idea of this model can also be transferred to the body structure of universities. It states that the gender ratio that prevails within the members of a structure should also be reflected in the bodies of this structure. The gender ratio within the faculty would thus be the target for the composition of the Faculty Council. It should also be ensured that underrepresented genders are not weakened and that non-binary genders are also adequately considered. Through the university’s own control processes, this target mark is to be achieved for all bodies. To this end, the development is to be evaluated in regular cycles and documented in a publicly accessible equality report.
The new Bavarian Higher Education Act no longer necessarily reflects the committee structure as it currently exists. According to the State Ministry’s key points paper, there will no longer be uniform handling, let alone comparability between universities. Instead, each university is now free to do as it wishes, to restructure its bodies and to adopt so-called organizational statutes (“Organisationssatzung”).
Restructuring can offer great opportunities for innovation in decision-making bodies. It creates opportunities to react to changing conditions and can advance the universities’ own profile. In the context of flexibility of the body structure through a university’s own organizational statutes, it would also be possible to introduce a Dean of Studies from the academic mid-level staff or a student Vice-President. Both are innovative approaches to involve our status groups more strongly in the shaping of the university, but are currently excluded by the Bavarian Higher Education Act. The university’s organizational statutes will play a very important role in its internal governance in the future. Therefore, on the one hand, a special focus should be placed on the process of creating these statutes, and on the other hand, binding guidelines and democratic minimum standards for defining and also limiting the scope of design for the individual universities must be specified in the Higher Education Act.
All status groups of the university family must be fundamentally involved in the creation of these organizational statutes; these statutes shall not be a “make a wish” composition of the university management, but must emerge collegially from within the university itself. For this extremely important task, we believe it is necessary to establish a separate body – the University Convention (“Hochschulrat”). This body ensures the involvement of all status groups by equal representation and prevents the majorization of minorities. There is also no contradiction with the constitutionally guaranteed majority of professors in fundamental decisions about research and teaching, since the University Convention has no permanent authority in these matters and dissolves after the adoption of the organizational statutes. We believe that a quorum of two-thirds of all votes is necessary for the adoption of the organizational statutes in order to demonstrate broad legitimacy within the university and thus create the necessary high level of acceptance for the new university structure.
Furthermore, binding guidelines are needed for the creation of the organizational statutes. These must be reflected in the new Bavarian Higher Education Act and thus create confidence in the new system. It must be stipulated that there is a decision-making and a decision-executing body at each level of a university. These bodies must represent the status groups equally. In order to ensure the freedom of science, the representatives of the professors should retain a majority in fundamental decisions on research and teaching. While the operational management and external representation of a university, as also envisaged in the key points paper, is carried out by the university leadership, in our view it is equally necessary for every university to have a central body to supervise the executive, as is currently the case with the University Council. Also essential are central committees for important tasks, such as teaching and studies, research and strategy issues, young academics or academic misconduct, which should be stipulated as mandatory in the law.
Agreement on Objectives and Development Plan
In addition to reorganizing the structure within universities, the Ministry of Science and Arts is withdrawing from technical and legal supervision to purely legal supervision. According to the key points paper, the only substantive links between the Free State of Bavaria and its universities will henceforth be the Agreement on Objectives and the University Development Plan. The Bavarian Higher Education Act does not currently contain any further provisions on the drafting of the Agreement on Objectives and the University Development Plan, which in practice leads to extremely heterogeneous and in some cases non-transparent processes for the drafting of these documents, which are essential for the strategic orientation of the universities. In most cases, the Senate is only informed about the decision of the university leadership, and the University Council also only comments afterwards. In this respect, Bavaria is clearly one of the worst performers in the German higher education landscape, whereas in all other German states, the Senates are involved at least in an advisory capacity, and are often even assigned as decision-makers (DHV 2019). Real and significant change is needed here. The participation of the status groups in the preparation of the Development Plan and the Agreement on Objectives is an absolute necessity in the context of strengthening the autonomy of higher education institutions and must now finally be made binding in the Higher Education Act.
State Student Representation
In addition to the internal structure of the university, in which the student representation is an integral part, the state-wide collaboration and networking of the students is of particular importance. For more than 20 years, this has taken place on a voluntary and consensual basis in the Landes-ASten-Konferenz Bayern, whose delegates from all parts of Bavaria are democratically elected by the respective student councils of the universities. LAK Bayern takes a stand on current higher education policy issues, represents students in their academic, economic and social concerns at the state level and maintains relations with student representations in other states. LAK Bayern is firmly committed to its higher education policy mandate and sees itself as a constructive cooperation partner for the university associations and the State Ministry for Science and the Arts. The Bavarian student representations value their state association as a platform for exchange and networking and would like to maintain it in its current composition and structure.
In the Bavarian constitution, the participation of students at universities is particularly emphasized in Article 138, Paragraph 2. In this context, the inclusion of a state representation of students in the new Higher Education Act is a strong signal of the appreciation of this honorary work and ensures that the interests of students are addressed at the state level as well. However, we are concerned about the increasing tendencies towards strict regulation of this representation. Starting with the name “Landesstudierendenbeirat” (State Student Advisory Board), which we reject because it does not adequately reflect the role of student representation and the significance of student participation in higher education policy, and which has led to great irritation among Bavarian student representatives, and ending with precise requirements for the composition of the board. In our view, this is in sharp contrast to the deregulatory character of the reform. We would like to appeal to the legislator to merely define the framework conditions for the state association in the Higher Education Act. This includes the necessity of a democratic legitimation of its members and a direct delegate model, which guarantees the equal participation of all student representations in Bavaria. In addition, the state student representation should be given the opportunity to regulate its composition and working methods on its own authority by Rules of Procedure.
It can undoubtedly be concluded that democratic structures act as effective control mechanisms that contribute essentially to the maintenance and improvement of quality in research and teaching and maintain the credibility of the universities. In any case, a weakening of the bodies will result in a loss of trust and acceptance. Apart from this, efforts should be made to modernize the body structure and reduce decision-making overlaps. However, the motto “four eyes see more than two” as a symbol of the separation of powers must take precedence over the goal of “maximum downsizing and deregulation” of the amendment of the Higher Education Act.
Universities as employers – universities in responsibility
Public law entities
Excellent teaching and research can only be achieved in the context of good and reliable working conditions and in a trusting and respectful relationship with each other. To this end, both for temporary and permanent staff, well thought-out personnel development, earlier reliability in career planning, strengthened staff representation rights – which can be implemented, for example, through an academic staff council – and, in particular, better family friendliness are indispensable.
As part of the amendment to the Higher Education Act, universities, which are currently both state institutions and public law entities, are to be released from their role as state institutions. While this policy was previously intended to be binding for all universities, the current key points paper now only talks about an optional solution following strong criticism from the university associations. This is a good compromise to reflect the different needs of the individual types of higher education institutions. Universities of Art and Music have different priorities and structures than Universities of Applied Sciences or other Universities. Nevertheless, the key points paper talks about the fact that universities that do not wish to change their legal status must actively declare this within a time limit (opt-out), which makes the direction of this transformation clear. In contrast, we consider the decision for or against a sole public law entity on the basis of an opt-in model to be clearly more beneficial. The change in legal status should be accompanied by an active act of will. This is also more in line with the derogatory nature of Article 138 (1) of the Bavarian Constitution, which declares the state structure of universities to be the default.
The decision on the legal form of the universities has a direct impact on the employment status of all university members and thus significantly determines the quality of universities as employers. Due to their dual status as state institutions, the employees of the universities benefit, for example, from the automatic adjustment of wage increases as well as from the use of official housing provided by the Free State. The State Ministry, represented by the respective minister, also performs significant work in its capacity as employer over the employees at the universities in Bavaria. Due to the diversity of Bavaria’s higher education institutions, the State Ministry has a broad view of the “problems and concerns” of the employees and can maintain the high quality of the Free State as an employer with its cross-sectional knowledge. Employment relationships in the universities are also not free of hierarchies; this is particularly evident in the naturally close dependency within the framework of a doctoral position. Therefore, despite all the collegiality that is practiced locally, it is always important that a higher-level body exists to solve problems. In our view, the State Ministry has always fulfilled its function as a mediative supervisory body in the event of personnel problems with caution and the necessary “fingertip feeling”. From our point of view, it is incomprehensible why this successful model should be altered.
Apart from the employment regulations, the question of the legal form is also decisive for the relationship between universities and the state. Universities that opt for the legal status of a “pure” public law entity are solely part of the indirect state administration. They therefore have to comply with state goals and requirements only to a limited extent. It may therefore happen that higher education institutions that are no longer state institutions do not answer parliamentary questions from the state parliament, or answer them only partially, with referral to their autonomous status. Similarly, universities could, for example, stop their efforts to achieve the climate goals of the Free State of Bavaria with reference to their public law status. The fee-free leasing of university buildings, which are currently the legal property of the Free State of Bavaria, to the student services (“Studierendenwerke”), e.g. for the operation of university canteens, would also no longer be guaranteed. With their dining halls, dormitories and service centers, the student services represent a strong and valued social partner for students that must not be ousted by private companies. An affordable social infrastructure should be ensured in the proven manner by the student services of the Free State. These must be explicitly entrusted with the corresponding tasks by means of a so-called entrustment act, so that no interpretations under state aid and sales tax law jeopardize the required non-profit status.
Also in the context of a global budget and independent of the legal form of the universities, there must be an appropriated budget for the improvement of studies and teaching, similar to the current study grants (“Studienzuschüsse”), which is based on the number of students and on which the students have a parity vote on how it is used.
While some university leaders are calling for the universities to be released from the state structure in order to gain greater autonomy through instruments such as the global budget and building ownership, a closer look reveals that these demands are only linked for strategic communication purposes, but are not causally related. The implementation of a global budget, which many universities would like to see for the strategic management of their resources, is already possible, as can be seen in the examples of the Technical University of Munich and the Munich University of Applied Sciences. Neither the global budget nor the transfer of building ownership to the universities requires a withdrawal from the state structure of the universities. Instead, poor working conditions at the universities, great uncertainty among employees, legal complications and a lengthy, resource-intensive transformation process – it took the universities in North Rhine-Westphalia just under ten years to manage this transition – are to be expected in perspective. Overall, the disadvantages of losing the state structure far outweigh the supposed advantages in our view.
Career paths for mid-level staff
In addition to professorships, more and more professions with complex requirements and corresponding personnel needs are arising at universities. From the coordination of study programs, to the accreditation of examinations, to study counseling, these essential activities are performed almost exclusively by non-professorial teaching staff. In addition to their independent academic activities, they also make an indispensable contribution to the university’ s academic management. These tasks are permanent, require experience and special competencies to perform, and should therefore take place in permanent employment contracts. The following maxim must apply: Permanent positions for permanent tasks. With this in mind, the continuation of more than 1,200 positions with a kw note, which were marked in the budget with a fixed expiration date, is an extremely positive signal and should be understood as the university system’s own claim for a fundamental de-termination strategy.
Without mid-level academic staff, the teaching load at Bavarian universities cannot be nearly met. According to the data of the accompanying study B7 of the Federal Report on Young Academics 2017, the non-professorial teaching staff provides 77% of all teaching hours (BUWIN 2017). Away from this already impressively high figure, it is also often the lecturers of the non-professorial teaching staff who develop new and innovative teaching concepts and take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalization. Their commitment, usually over and above their contractual obligations, ensures the constant advancement of teaching and realizes the Bavarian claim of teaching excellence at universities. Although studies on this are largely missing, we assume that the scientific output of the non-professorial teaching staff is at a similar level as their substantial contribution to teaching. As a result of developments in recent decades, many experienced academic staff members are now conducting practically independent research, successfully acquiring third-party funding on their own responsibility, and qualifying young academics themselves. In our understanding, the non-professorial teaching staff must therefore also be legally recognized as carriers of scientific freedom.
Therefore, there must be reliable career paths for all academic staff. In addition to the already established paths of junior professorship and tenure-track professorship, the current amendment aims to realize new paths to professorship, such as junior research group leadership or the HAW junior professorship, which we explicitly welcome. In order to be able to choose the personally appropriate career path from among this variety, employees must be able to access the universities’ own counseling services. The establishment of career centers for early advice, talent recognition and promotion within the universities, which is planned as part of the amendment to the Higher Education Act, can provide valuable services here. The gradual assumption of responsibility with opportunities for advancement among proven individuals – even without having to change universities – creates prospects and additional motivation. It is still the rule that people move between universities many times until their term of office is terminated – usually not until they are in their fifth decade of life. This is hostile to both partnerships and families, and causes many talented individuals to leave the higher education landscape.
Reliable human resources planning must also be provided for staff who do not aspire to professorships and instead do valuable work in other areas, such as science management or third-party fundraising. However, universities also have a responsibility for their employees who leave the university in the future, whether of their own free will or due to a lack of temporary positions. Here in particular, it is important for the university as an employer to provide the best possible advice and prospects for their future careers in business and society at an early stage.
Entrepreneurial university – opportunities and risks
One goal of the reform of the Higher Education Act is to strengthen cooperation between universities and the private sector in the spirit of knowledge and technology transfer and to make universities more open to entrepreneurial thinking and acting. Cooperation with the private sector already plays an important role at Universities of Applied Sciences and “Technische Hochschulen”. Whether it’s dual studies, the practical semester or joint projects and dissertations, for students at these types of universities, practical relevance and proximity to the business community are an important part of their studies. External lecturers from Bavarian companies also play a major role in bringing their practical knowledge to students in various modules and subject areas and making them aware of the transition to the working world.
However, it is important to warn against a general and undifferentiated economization of the entire higher education sector and a one-sided output orientation. While control by output criteria can be a characteristic of efficient and goal-oriented university management, science must never be subjected exclusively to a logic of exploitation, but must always be protected by the ideal of purpose-free knowledge.
Transfer must not be restricted to start-ups in the STEM sector. Examples include subjects in the humanities and social sciences such as political science. Their findings are often not directly economically exploitable, but they make an essential contribution to our society and democracy. Humanities and social sciences as well as artistic subjects, but also disciplines such as theoretical mathematics, have an intrinsically high and long-term value and must under no circumstances suffer from an effort to maximize short-term profits. The situation is similar with the teaching profession: Inferior studies in the teaching profession in turn entail inferior education in schools. Good teacher training, on the other hand, ensures immense economic progress in the medium and long term and also leads to more innovation in other areas. A development that leads to the weakening of these areas due to a too strong economic orientation of universities would be highly problematic here. We are, of course, aware that the repeal of all studies in the humanities and social sciences, as well as in the arts, is not up for debate. Nevertheless, these must be treated on an equal footing with the other subjects and must therefore be equally protected and promoted.
According to Article 3 of the Bavarian Constitution, Bavaria is a state of law, social welfare and culture. Culture, and with it education and research, must not be oriented solely or even primarily to business considerations. Clear limits must be set here. Particularly when it comes to attracting top talent, personal responsibility in research and teaching is often a key argument. The economic added value of individual subjects cannot be the sole factor in maintaining degree programs and disciplines. The key points paper correctly states this and speaks broadly of the social, technological, economic, ecological and creative added value of universities for the state, the economy and society. Beyond the generation of added value, however, science is always committed to itself, regardless of the subject area, and the ideal of purpose-free knowledge must also be clearly reflected in the new Higher Education Act.
In the concrete implementation of a stronger entrepreneurial orientation of the universities, a fundamental differentiation is appropriate: on the one hand, into the structural entrepreneurial activity of the university, and on the other hand, into the entrepreneurial thinking and acting of the university members. Many innovative ideas and concepts are being developed at Bavarian universities. It is only understandable that the minds behind these are interested in putting them into practice. Company foundations, start-ups and social entrepreneurship by university members or alumni are a possible consequence and welcome.
Start-ups and person-based spin-offs
In this context, committed university members and alumni should be supported as unbureaucratically as possible. This can be done, for example, through facilitated part-time employment regulations or start-up free semesters. These instruments of start-up support should apply to professors as well as mid-level staff. In order to prevent uncontrolled growth and abuse, but also to ensure compatibility with the status of civil servants, these processes should be accompanied by clear rules and responsibilities. Particularly in view of the special dependency relationships of students as well as the mid-level staff, special attention must be paid here to the implementation of the start-ups and the conditions for the involvement of university employees. In order to balance possible conflicts of interest between the responsibility of the universities towards the state and the economic activity of the individual, an ombudsperson body analogous to the body for the control of scientific misconduct with internal and external expertise must be created. This body should evaluate dangers, but also opportunities, of entrepreneurial activity, advise on the public use of resources and help find solutions in the event of conflicts of interest. This innovative body can provide valuable decision-making support and relief for the university management.
Entrepreneurial activity of the university
The entrepreneurial activities of universities as legal entities are viewed very critically. In order to engage in entrepreneurial activities, they would need appropriate professional staff in suitable structures. In our view, entrepreneurial activity is not one of the core tasks of universities, but rather diverts them away from their core purpose, namely research and teaching, and thus contradicts the protection of the ideal of purpose-free knowledge. This would massively and permanently damage the credibility of science. The question of liability in the event of failure is also completely unresolved. We are very concerned about the rampant practice in some areas of the free economy to outsource activities to subcontractors with precarious conditions. As an example, it would be possible as an “enterprise university” to replace tariff agreements with work contracts for undergraduate teaching, doctoral theses or research activities. This must not happen in the higher education sector with its already extreme dependency relationships. Bavarian universities must become aware of their exemplary function and responsibility towards their members here, and not contribute to the formation of precarious employment relationships themselves.
Entrepreneurial thinking in universities entails both opportunities and risks. Clear responsibilities, goal-oriented, constructive action in governing bodies and the assumption of responsibility are demands that we strongly support. However, good, relevant and thus goal-oriented decisions in these processes can only be made if the expertise of those involved can be integrated – and not just relying on top-down concepts. This is the only way to create acceptance and ensure the motivation and creativity of university employees. This type of participation has been successfully practiced by creative, innovative companies for many years.
Excellence in research and teaching
Excellence in teaching essentially ensures the quality of studies and thus the attractiveness of the university location Bavaria. However, outstanding education is not only a hallmark of the scientific landscape, but also generates direct added value for society and the economy in Bavaria. In order to maintain the university as a valuable place of education, teaching must be brought back into focus and the new requirements and possibilities of digital teaching must be considered and financed accordingly. This high aspiration is to be thought of universally and applies to Universities, Universities of Applied Sciences as well as to the Universities of Art and Music in the Free State of Bavaria. With a jump-start into a new teaching age, all these demands can be realized.
Teaching obligation regulation and global teaching load
The current Teaching Obligations Ordinance (“LUFV”) does virtually nothing to address the opportunities presented by digitalization or the digital deployment of teachers. A fundamental revision of the LUFV is essential, particularly in order to adequately take into account partially or fully digitized teaching formats. While the current LUFV precisely specifies the distribution and crediting of teaching hours and teaching formats for all Bavarian lecturers, a global teaching load with flexible regulations is to be introduced at the universities in the future. We hope that this will not only strengthen the universities in their teaching autonomy, but also create an environment for the development and recognition of innovations in teaching.
In the future, universities will be able to decide on their own authority how to distribute their global teaching load, which is based on the number of employees as well as the number of degree programs they supervise, among their lecturers. This new flexibility creates scope for relieving the time burden on lecturers who are temporarily fulfilling special tasks. Of course, this also requires people who temporarily take on increased teaching responsibilities. In the spirit of the solidarity principle, it must be ensured that this freedom is open to all university members and is not misused to unilaterally relieve individuals. In this respect, we see considerable implementation problems with a complete release of the teaching load in detail, which we regard with concern. In order to solve or at least mitigate these problems, the shifting of teaching loads should, as a rule, only take place within the status groups as well as faculties or disciplines, and should not be allocated cross-sectionally. Therefore, the distribution must not be decided hierarchically in a top-down process over the heads of those affected, but must be worked out within the university family. To this end, we call for the creation of a Teaching Distribution Council in which all status groups involved – professors, mid-level staff and students – can participate. In order to prevent possible conflicts of interest between the professors and the academic mid-level staff with regard to the distribution of teaching, appropriate protective mechanisms must be established. A large-scale transfer of teaching according to the pejorative motto “Teaching? Others do it!” must not be allowed to happen. Therefore, we consider it necessary that this council works on a parity basis. We also consider the equal involvement of students in this process to be enriching, since they should take an active role in the distribution and weighting of teaching formats. Furthermore, the flexible allocation of teaching loads must not be abused to permanently release individual lecturers from their teaching duties. It must not be the case that researchers without teaching cannot pass on their knowledge to the students and that teachers without research cannot improve their teaching content due to a lack of knowledge. In accordance with the Humboldtian ideal of education, we reject such a permanent exemption as not reflecting the nature of universities.
Excellence in research is a central task of Universities as well as a growing number of Universities of Applied Sciences. A key instrument is the recruitment and promotion of “bright minds”. Bavaria’s higher education landscape must be attractive to talented individuals from Germany and abroad and must provide them with dedicated support.
To this end, appointment procedures must be fast and dynamic, without sacrificing quality. A comprehensible, transparent procedure and thus clear rules are indispensable. Particular attention must also be paid to providing targeted support to previously underrepresented groups, such as qualified women and persons with health impairments, and to giving them preferential consideration if they have the same qualifications.
While legally the core tasks of universities in research and teaching are defined on an equal footing, in practice it is evident in appointment procedures that these are evaluated as anything but equal. Professors are appointed primarily on the basis of their research performance and only secondarily on the basis of their teaching effectiveness. We therefore advocate a stronger weighting of teaching as well as previous experience of the applicants in management tasks and personnel leadership in the appointment decisions. This would also send a strong signal to all dedicated non-professorial staff who see teaching not just as a mandatory task, but as a passionate calling.
In this process, the participation of all status groups in the appointment process ensures both the necessary democratic legitimacy and the quality of the appointment decisions made by including a variety of perspectives. Proactive procedures can be an appropriate means of attracting top researchers. However, in order to ensure transparency and to comply with the principle of selecting the best according to Article 33 of the Basic Law, they must be limited in overall scope.
Fee collection capabilities
Studying should not be a question of financial situation, origin or social environment. This is not least a fundamental question of educational equity. Even today’s top researchers and business leaders did not fall from the sky. At the beginning of their careers, they completed a study program with which they could identify and which they enjoyed. Since the referendum in 2013, Bavarian students no longer have to pay blanket tuition fees. This social achievement must be preserved at all costs. In contrast to this, however, the amendment to the Bavarian Higher Education Act is to grant universities extensive opportunities to charge fees, which can also be used for tuition fees for non-EU foreigners, among other things. This undifferentiated possibility of charging fees, which is to be given to the autonomy of the universities, must under no circumstances be used as a gateway for a gradual reinstatement of tuition fees. Tuition fees – whether for German or international students – intensify the socioeconomic desegregation of the education system and must therefore be rejected on the grounds of educational equity. The decision against tuition fees reflects a social consensus on our education system, which was most recently clearly underscored by the 2013 referendum. We therefore believe it is wrong to delegate this decision to the universities so that they can autonomously introduce or waive fees. Due to economic constraints and a lack of basic funding, universities are under latent pressure to find new sources of revenue through tuition fees. In all likelihood, this will lead to a proliferation of fees rather than a reduction in them.
The Bavarian higher education landscape is rightly proud of its international profile – in 2020, 14.7% of students came from abroad (Bildungsklick 2020) – as well as the diversity and pluralism of origin of its university members. We see this as massively endangered by the introduction of tuition fees, especially for the intended target group. There is a danger that Bavarian universities will fall behind in the quest for the best minds and talents through the contraindicated introduction of tuition fees for non-EU foreigners. In recent years, for example, Baden-Wuerttemberg has imposed tuition fees of 1500€ per semester for non-EU foreigners through this very model. While the majority of these fees, around 1200€, were lost due to the administration and management of fee collection that became necessary at the universities, the proportion of international students also decreased significantly as a result (by 26% from winter semester ’16/17 to winter semester ’17/18 [DSW 2017]).
We call on the Ministry of Science and Arts to make it unequivocally clear in the Higher Education Act that the fee charging capability of higher education institutions may not be used for blanket tuition fees of any kind (upstream, mainstream, or downstream tuition fees) and to remove the contemplated possibility of tuition fees for non-EU foreigners. Fees for continuing education or certificates aimed at a working target group are excluded from this.
Credible university – internally and externally
Universities at the service of society
Universities enjoy a special position in society. They continue to be recognized as places of study and education and create scientific and cultural knowledge that benefits society as a whole. Universities therefore do not exist as an end in their self-interest, but always with and for society. We explicitly welcome the fact that this role of reaching out to society is to be anchored in the spectrum of tasks of universities as a third pillar under the term “transfer” alongside the academia’s inherent tasks in research and teaching. Even in times of increasing polarization in political debates and the rise of centrifugal forces in democratic discourse, the role of universities as producers and mediators of reliable knowledge has never been more relevant.
In order to be able to justify the special credibility of higher education institutions to the outside world, we are deeply convinced that higher education must first and foremost be credible to its members on the inside. This is achieved by involving all members in the decision-making processes “at eye level” and taking them seriously. Even in times of new freedoms made possible by organizational statutes, the established interplay of governing bodies and the participation of all status groups in internal university decisions must not be laid hands on.
The self-critical handling of third-party funds as well as transparency in the acquisition and use of these funds is also essential for the credibility of universities in society. LAK Bayern has already called for the introduction of a Bavaria-wide transparency register in 2019, in which third-party funding contracts and other research and teaching projects of universities with sponsors from the private sector must be recorded in a standardized, electronic directory and made publicly accessible. Exceptions may be possible in the case of confidentiality clauses, but their contents must of course be accessible to internal control bodies. Such a transparency register strengthens the independence of research and counteracts possible conflicts of interest in science. The reform of the Higher Education Act is the right time to introduce such a regulation on a binding basis throughout Bavaria.
Scientific findings do not only serve themselves, but are always particularly useful when they can be made fruitful and visible for society. This is most evident in the case of anthropogenic climate change, in which the understanding of cause-and-effect relationships is based to a large extent on the scientific findings of universities and their researchers. Scientific penetration of the topic must only be the first step; it is equally important to apply the knowledge gained as well as solution strategies to all actors in society, and thus also to the universities. This is, not least, a question of their own credibility.
Sustainability goals and climate neutrality
As educational institutions, universities have the task of equipping people with knowledge and skills that enable them to help shape a development that is economically, ecologically and socially sustainable. As LAK Bayern already emphasized in the position paper “Sustainable University” of June 16, 2019, universities are responsible for integrating this task in all areas – teaching, research, operations, governance and transfer. We therefore explicitly welcome the fact that this overall institutional approach is now to be enshrined in legislation and that a program sentence on sustainability is to be added to the catalog of university tasks.
Universities are the decisive driving force behind the transformation of society as a whole towards sustainability. For this reason, all areas of higher education must be fundamentally aligned with the guiding principle of sustainable development. This can only succeed if the governing bodies of a university are equipped with their own business area for anchoring sustainability in research and teaching, in governance structures and in the operation of the university – for example, through a staff unit for sustainability. In addition, successful implementation of sustainability also requires an overall strategic concept. Sustainability aspects must therefore be taken into account institution-wide in the development plans of the universities or be part of the target agreements with the State Ministry for Science and the Arts.
The Free State of Bavaria has set itself the goal of making its direct administration climate-neutral by 2030 at the latest (BayKlimaG 2020). However, universities could evade this obligation and undermine the state’s climate targets by transforming themselves into pure corporations. This legal loophole is environmentally and socially irresponsible, undermines the sustainability concept of the Higher Education Innovation Act and must be closed by an explicit target. Our universities are the future workshops of a sustainable society and as such must not shirk their exemplary function. In line with the climate strategy of the Free State of Bavaria, university operations must therefore also become climate-neutral by 2030. To achieve this goal, the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions must be in the foreground, not just compensation through offsetting measures. To this end, target agreements, such as net emissions targets, must be regularly reviewed and a corresponding university report published. Based on the results, we expect a binding concept to be developed for improving the climate balance.
Sustainability and climate protection have a high social relevance. However, they also require funding to achieve these ambitious goals. A significant increase in basic funding is therefore a fundamental prerequisite for the success of the new university tasks. The additional funds must be allocated for a specific purpose, especially in the context of a global budget, so that they cannot be misappropriated for cross-financing for other areas. As a positive reference, we would like to mention the “Baden-Wuerttemberg Higher Education Financing Agreement 2021-2025”. Under the agreement, the universities have undertaken, among other things, to develop binding targets as well as measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In return, the state government is improving basic funding and increasing planning security for the universities.
A higher education law for all
The fundamental reform of a law always offers opportunities and risks at the same time. We are convinced that a good Higher Education Act contains both reliable quality standards for all universities and the necessary freedom for strategic university development on the ground. To ensure this, it is characterized by a participatory involvement process right from the start, which prevents the overly selective consideration of individual interests. The concerns of students as well as of the academic middle class – democratization, committee involvement, excellence in teaching, career paths for lecturers and sustainability goals – must be taken seriously and clearly reflected in the reform. Only in this way will members of higher education institutions have a Higher Education Act with which they can identify. Let’s rethink agility and progress together and preserve the democracy and credibility of higher education institutions.