WOS 2 / Proceedings / Panels / Öffentliches Wissen / Universität als Profit Center? / Andreas Keller / skript

Dr. Andreas Keller

Official in charge of science, research and higher education of the PDS faction in the German Bundestag

Higher education in the clutches of the market
Prospects for access to research and teaching in the 21st century

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking you most warmly for inviting me to this conference and asking me to participate in today's panel discussion, entitled "Should the university be a public service provider or a profit centre?". I would like to present a few ideas about the prospects for open access to higher education institutions and to the research and teaching they offer.

At the beginning of the 21st century, we are in the midst of a comprehensive re-structuring of the higher education system. Not only is this process apparent here in Germany, it also has an international dimension. What are the prospects for access to research and teaching under these conditions?

The dominant model in this re-structuring is the market-controlled Enterprise University (Unternehmenshochschule). In Germany, this new model is to replace the model of the Group University (Gruppenhochschule), which first became popular around 30 years ago in the Länder of the then Federal Republic, and again after 1989 in a different form in the new Länder. I would like to give you some more details about the model of the market-controlled Enterprise University. I will then analyse its specific effects on access to research and teaching. To do this I will refer to the debate about higher education funding and the example of the reform of higher education patent law. I will take the current changes to the higher education system in Germany as the specific point of reference for my reflections.

The re-structuring of the higher education system aims firstly to re-define the relationship between higher education and the state - primarily in the sense of increased autonomy for institutions of higher education, in particular on financial matters, for example through the globalisation of higher education budgets.

But the re-structuring also aims to institutionalise a market-type mechanism for competition. In systems geared to the success-based distribution of funds, higher education institutions, faculties and institutes are to compete for government resources as providers of research and teaching services, and these resources are to be allocated in accordance with the achievements attributed to them. The result of the market mechanism simulated in this way is not autonomy of the higher education institutions, but a specific form of heteronomy.

As customers of the market-controlled Enterprise University, the students are to generate a market-like demand by paying tuition fees for the services offered by the higher education institutions. Thus tuition fees represent far more than a response to the wretched state of government funding for higher education - they complete the market-like competitive mechanisms in the higher education system.

As a counterpart to establishing market mechanisms, the internal structure of the higher education institution is to be re-organised on the basis of economic categories and along the lines of a corporate structure. The re-definition of the relationship between higher education institution management and a central elected representative body of the higher education institution (senate) is modelled on the relationship between the board of management and the supervisory board in a public limited company. The same applies to the relationship between corresponding bodies at faculty level (faculty management and faculty board). The idea therefore is not to make a distinction at the institutional level between policy decisions and a regulatory role, but rather to restrict the role of the elected representative bodies (senate and faculty board) to supervisory and advisory functions.

This means that the strengthening of the management bodies is not only directed against the idea of co-determination on the part of all the groups involved in the academic process, an idea that is embodied in the principle of the Group University, but also against the autonomy enshrined in the status of the higher education institutions as public bodies. It is therefore no surprise that the legal form of the state institutions of higher education as public bodies is also in question.

In addition, in accordance with the "principle of double legitimisation", the function of a supervisory board is now to be assumed by an external higher education institution board, in place of a representative body elected by members of the higher education institution. According to the dominant conceptions for re-structuring higher education institutions, the higher education institution board will consist of expert figures from both academia and industry.

So what will be the consequences of re-structuring the higher education system along these lines, in terms of access to higher education institutions and the teaching and research they offer?

Market-regulated access to teaching and courses - The significance of the tuition fees debate for higher education policy

The call for the introduction of tuition fees expresses a sea change in education and science policy which has had a growing influence on higher education policy at federal and Land level since the beginning of the 1990s. The guiding principle of this sea change is a radical economisation and privatisation of the public higher education system which turns education and training, teaching and courses into "goods" and students into "customers" or "consumers" in an education market. The consequence of this re-positioning of the students in higher education policy is that, as customers, they have to pay fair prices for the services they require.

The continuing debate about the introduction of tuition fees therefore has a particular significance in terms of the development of the higher education system as a whole: Does higher education policy fit into the logic of a neo-liberal deregulation that dominates other areas of policy, or is it holding onto the principles of the welfare state and emancipatory reform alternatives?

Tuition fees mean that access to training and higher education courses on the basis of "the right to education" is replaced by a market-like regulation of this access. What does this mean in detail?

  1. The introduction of tuition fees is based on a new understanding of education which no longer sees it as a public asset as in the past, but as a service which must be purchased. It is no longer society as a whole but primarily the individual seeking qualifications who is to be responsible for financing his or her education and training. There is a danger that having questioned the principle of free higher education, this idea might be taken further, in a process that goes well beyond initial intentions, until private payment contributions become the norm for all educational routes in secondary and tertiary education.
  2. Tuition fees do not solve the problem of unequal distribution of the burdens of state expenditure; on the contrary, they make the problem worse. People are increasingly justifying the call for tuition fees by the argument that, with free higher education, non-academic taxpayers finance the training of academics. That this argument is inherently based on false calculations was proved only recently by a study published by the German students' social welfare organisation (Deutsches Studentenwerk), which showed that, after finishing their courses, graduates pay back to the state far more than the cost of their education. However, this does not take account of the fact that it is not only graduates who profit from higher education, but society as a whole. Industry, in particular, depends on highly-qualified staff, and there is more and more demand for them. The general problem of an unequal distribution of the burdens of public expenditure and investment can only be solved by adjusting federal tax policy on the basis of social equality, whereby citizens and companies are obliged to finance public payments in accordance with their financial capacity. Tuition fees, on the other hand, would burden future academics one-sidedly and across the board, regardless of their current and future performance and of their usefulness, which would be impossible to calculate on an individual basis. The argument that without tuition fees "the nurse" would pay for the training of "the doctor's son" is in the end decidedly cynical, because it takes the under-representation of low-income social groups in higher education as a justification for creating further social access barriers.
  3. Tuition fees are socially unjust because they lead to a restriction of access to higher education and educational opportunities in direct relation to the financial capability of the person wishing to study, or of his or her parents. The introduction of tuition fees would particularly disadvantage the children of parents with below-average incomes, because the payment of fees would place a far greater burden on their families than on parents of above-average income. Because of the specific socialisation (in terms of the importance of higher education for personal development), this applies in particular to women and to young people from classes that are historically not close to education. In this way, tuition fees contribute systematically to the reproduction of economic and social inequality in the education system and undermine equal opportunities. The same applies in principle to tuition fee models that are claimed to be socially compatible. It should be remembered that tuition fees exacerbate the social inequalities that result from the lack of an effective training funding system. Only one in eight students currently receives payments under the Federal Law on Financial Assistance for Students (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz).
  4. Tuition fees do not increase the influence that students have on higher education policy, but on the contrary promote further erosion of the possibilities for student participation. The relationship between the students and the higher education institution, which is shaped by binding rights to co-determination on the self-government boards of higher education institutions, is in the future to be replaced by a market relationship in which the higher education institutions as providers of training-related services are set against the students as customers. Any strengthening of the position of students resulting from tuition fees, however, would be limited to the opportunity for them to choose between the services offered in line with their personal purchasing power, without having any influence on the formation of these services. Anyone who enthuses about the sovereignty of the consumer ("the customer is always right") should bear in mind the fact that the economic power of consumers on the one hand represents a variable of the unequal distribution of income and property, and on the other hand is impaired by cartels and the formation of oligopolies and monopolies.

Market-regulated access to research findings - the debate about higher education patent law

The German Bundestag is shortly to decide about a reform of what is known as the "higher education teacher privilege" enshrined in the Employee Invention Act (Arbeitnehmererfindungsgesetz) of 1957. This act stipulates as a matter of principle that inventions made by employees in the course of their work may be used by the employer, notwithstanding an appropriate remuneration for the inventor. After all, the law protects the economic legality prevailing in capitalism that the surplus value resulting from the "consumption" of labour must benefit the employer. The higher education teacher privilege, on the other hand, enables higher education teachers to utilise their inventions themselves. The grounds given are the basic right to academic freedom. There is much in favour of a reform of this privilege, first of all from an emancipatory perspective:
  1. We are dealing with a privilege of the higher education teachers. But privileges for groups of people which adversely affect other, non-privileged groups without good reason, that is to say on an arbitrary basis, are not justified. However justified special, academia-specific regulations for higher education and research institutions may be in terms of the basic right to academic freedom, preferential treatment of a particular group of bearers of this basic right is not legitimate. Not only higher education teachers, but the entire academic staff of a higher education institution can claim the basic right to academic freedom. And not only what are referred to as academic institutions of higher education, or universities, but all higher education institutions, including in particular the Fachhochschulen (vocationally oriented non-university institutions of higher education), are covered by the basic right to academic freedom. And the principles are no different for non-higher education research institutions.
  2. We must take account of the fact that inventions at higher education institutions are generally attributable not just to the intellectual capacities of academics, but also to use of the academic infrastructure provided by the public sector - from the typist and the specialist library to large-scale equipment in science and engineering laboratories. It is therefore legitimate that not only the expenditure and investments that lead to academic findings but also any earnings and profits that may result from them are socialised, and not, as all too often happens, that only the costs are socialised while the profits are privatised.

It would, however, be wrong to force the publicly-funded higher education institutions and the staff they employ to exploit their inventions under patent law. The bill that has been submitted to the Bundestag by the government does take account of this reservation by proposing that inventors should under certain conditions have the right to keep their inventions secret. But while inventors do have the right to keep the invention secret or to have it patented and utilised by the higher education institution, they do not have the right to prevent its commercial exploitation for all time as and when it is published. Before publication, inventors must give their employers the opportunity to apply for a patent. While the inventors are to be given the "non-exclusive right" to use their inventions within the framework of their research and teaching activities, they may only do so if commercial exploitation is made possible at the same time.

I see this as an unjustifiable encroachment on academic freedom. The principle of publicity is a constitutive element of the academic process (in particular when organised in higher education and publicly funded) which, from the modern understanding of academia as having a role to instruct and inform, lies in the public domain. We should therefore respect the great importance of the publication of research findings and not sacrifice it to ill-considered economic interests based on profit or to international competition among economic locations.

Since the German Government, in connection with its "Knowledge creates markets" programme of action, has declared a veritable "exploitation offensive" in the higher education institutions, I would like to finish by raising the question of whether sufficient reflection has been given to the impact of this approach on higher education development. It has been announced that the higher education institutions are to be systematically encouraged to set up those research priorities and appoint those teaching staff that promise particularly high patenting and invention exploitation revenue for the institutions. This would result in the development of higher education having to fit in with the criterion of ensuring the economic usefulness of academic findings. While it is certainly true that we need our higher education institutions to be made more open to society, they should not be degraded into extensions of the workbenches and laboratories of industry.

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