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Germany

German Court Lifts Ban on Student Fees

Germany's high court on Wednesday paved the way for the introduction of tuition fees at the country's universities.

Prevent student fees, reads the sign

The judges in Karlsruhe declared the federal law banning the imposition of tuition fees unconstitutional and said the law violated the constitutional rights of the German states to regulate higher education.

The Social-Democrat-led government introduced the ban to prevent conservative-led states from charging fees, which the government argues violate the principle of equal opportunity for all social strata.

A revolutionary change

According to commentators, it's a change that will revolutionize Germany's academic system.

So far, states have only been able to charge fees if students have significantly exceeded the regular study time.

While state governments want fees to help cover costs, some fear fees will limit access to universities. The constitutional court became involved in the matter after six states led by conservative governments appealed to judges to review a ban on fees imposed by the federal government in 2002.

Those in support of student fees have said the extra money is needed to cover the rising cost of universities while state governments lack funds. They also believe that fees will encourage students to study more efficiently.

Students in front of Heidelberg University

"Fees will help to preserve the quality of universities," Bavarian Science Minister Thomas Goppel told AP news service, adding that the money should be exclusively used to fill university coffers.

He added that he supported fees of €500 ($650) per semester. Should the court lift the ban on Wednesday Bavaria would try to introduce fees by the fall.

No way to speed things up?

But the student fees would not come close to cover the actual university costs per student -- €8,500 annually on average. Opponents also argue that fees would make it even harder for people to study while not causing students to finish their studies faster.

Still a popular way for students to make money

"Studying must not become even more expensive," said Eva-Maria Stange, the head of Germany's academic personnel union, GEW. She added that students already had to pay €40,000 on average for their studies. The additional fees would force them to take on even more jobs on the side.

"Anyone who needs to work to cover the fees will study longer as a result," she said.

Fees elsewhere

While US universities have long charged tuition fees, which can climb to $25,000 and more at top institutions per year, other European countries have also begun charging students to help cover costs.

In Britain, students pay up to €4,300, but get discounts if they are from poor families. The Netherlands introduced fees in 1986, Austria did so in 2001 and currently charges students about €720 per year. Nordic countries meanwhile still pay their students several hundred euros per month.

DW.DE

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