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Education

Students face uphill battle to become masters

Too many students, too little space: A study confirms a shortage of spots for master's degree programs. Not just students, but also the reputation of German universities abroad could suffer as a result.

A report recently released by the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) said up to 36,000 bachelor degree students may not find a spot in a masters' program by 2016. The think tank, which is tied to the Bertelmann Foundation and the German Rectors' Conference, developed its predictions based on analysis of bachelor students and demand for graduate programs.

This worst-case scenario would come to pass if 85 percent of bachelor graduates sought to continue their studies, according to CHE's Frank Ziegele. Such an estimate is realistic considering some masters' degree programs already have higher enrollment rates. "In the field of engineering, we had a 90 percent rate last year," said Matthias Nick, chair of the university's student council at RWTH Aachen, in western Germany.

The situation in Aachen is relatively laid back, Nick added, because there are no strict limits on the number of students who can join most of the university's masters programs. A so-called numerus clausus does limit enrollment for many subjects at other German universities.

Exclusionary criteria

The Free University of Berlin has suffered from too few spots for potential master's students.

"Too many applicants are being turned down - we notice this based on the large number of people who come to us asking how to fight such a rejection," Sina Prasse of the student council told DW.

The numerus clausus attempts to establish selection criteria for master's program entrants, such as a minimum grade point average. The Free University of Berlin requires, for example, that political science students need excellent grades to be accepted into the program and that while philosophy students would have to have slightly higher grades.

Students in a filled auditorium +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Students may have trouble finding a spot in a master's degree program

The situation is even more difficult for foreign students, Prasse explained. They are required to provide many documents, some of which take great effort to acquire. "If there were more applicants for master program spots in the future, there won't be any attempts to make this process easier," she said. This could mean that studying in Germany would become less attractive.

Ziegele said he sees the same danger. Although the CHE didn't examine the specific situation of foreign students, or which subjects would be most affected by a lack of master's program spots, "If competition for a master program increases altogether, of course it will become more difficult for foreign students to get a spot," Ziegele said.

Funding higher education

Demand for spot in a master's program has increased from 350,000 in 2005 to 515,000 in 2011. The jump in demand partly has to do with a new policy aimed at decreasing secondary school from 13 to 12 years, which has led to two classes graduating from secondary schools - and entering university - at the same time. The end of obligatory military service for men could also lead to an increase in applications for masters programs.

In response to the problem, the German government passed the Higher Education Pact 2020, in which billions of euros from the federal and state governments are to be invested in creating hundreds of thousands of new study slots for perspective students.

Although Ziegele described the pact as a good way of getting more money into the university system, it fell short by focusing on bachelor programs to the detriment of funding master's programs.

Ziegele said this could damage German universities' international reputation as too few opportunities to take up a graduate program could scare foreign students away.

Not neglected

Education Minister Johanna Wanka

Education Minister Johanna Wanka will discuss the issue at a conference this Friday

The German Education Ministry declined to comment specifically on the figures published in the CHE study. But a spokeswoman said master's programs were not being neglected and that the federal government had made 5 billion euros ($6.5 billion) available from 2011 to 2015 to help universities take in new students.

The price per student was calculated to include a master's degree," a spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman also pointed out that, in terms of foreign students, "Germany is the fourth-most-popular host country for foreign students, as the first non-English-speaking country after the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia."

Besides which, the Higher Education Pact isn't the last word. Federal and state governments will consider how to deal with the problem at a conference on Friday.

DW.DE