Comparison of German and American universities


The current reconstruction of German universities is considered by many to be Americanization. On the one hand comprehensible, one considers the USA as the leading scientific nation of the world, on the other hand surprised by the observed among German intellectuals anti-Americanism. But what does the actual comparison of the two scientific systems look like – what are the differences and similarities?

Article content

  1. Universities in USA and Germany: Surprising similarities and important differences
  2. Peanuts: German universities, viewed from America
  3. How does the American education system work?

The US is the world’s leading science nation, which not only proves the annual distribution of Nobel prizes. Top universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale also lead international rankings. But there are also average universities, long study periods and dropouts in the United States. A look behind the scenes.

“America, you have it better” – that is the refrain of many university policy discussions in Germany. Of course, according to which rankings and criteria, the United States has many of the world’s best universities. Undoubtedly, the country continues to be at the center of the international scientific system. It is no wonder that we, sometimes anxious, sometimes look with ambition for “benchmarks” or role models across the Atlantic. If the focus is only on top colleges such as Harvard, Stanford or MIT, but the comparison triggers more depression than competition in view of their abundant resources. Probably German universities can learn more from good state universities in the US.

Critical or enthusiastic, many of our discussions refer to an “Anglo-American” university system in which neither British nor American colleges would recognize themselves. On closer examination, there are some surprising similarities between the US and Germany, but also serious differences, well-known as well as overlooked.

In the USA, the mass university with high educational participation is two to three decades older than in Germany. Nevertheless, a number of the associated problems have not been solved there, a sign that patent remedies for educational challenges are unlikely to exist. The standard period of study is exceeded here and there by about half; About one third of first-year students never achieve a degree. Only 57.1 percent of students who had completed a full-time bachelor’s degree in 1999 had graduated six years later; After the standard study period of four years, it is just over a third. At nonprofit private universities, the graduation rate is slightly higher than average at 64 per cent after six years, while in the younger “for profit” sector, at 29 per cent, it is dramatically lower than at the state universities (54 per cent).

The duration of studies up to a successful completion of the nominally four-year bachelor’s degree is a median of 6.2 years at public universities and 5.3 years private. At top universities like Princeton or Harvard, more than 95 percent of students graduate in six years, but even in Berkeley or UCLA, the percentage drops below 90 percent; Starting at rank 60, 75 percent are hardly ever exceeded.

The duration of the doctoral studies, which is usually taken in the USA without a previous Master’s degree, amounts to an average of 7.5 years; The average age of graduates is 33.3 years, slightly higher than in Germany (32.8 years). Ten years after graduation, 56.6 percent of candidates in the United States actually earned a PhD.

In Germany as well as in the US, children from wealthy and educated families have better access to higher education, but the overrepresentation of academic children in Germany is even higher: in the USA, they are 76 percent more represented than the proportion of academics in the father generation even 131 percent.

In the US, the federal government gets a bigger share because the states do not co-finance national research organizations.

Germany and the USA spend between 2.5 percent and 2.7 percent of their gross domestic product on research and development (R & D). The research output of the two scientific systems (including the much more important non-university public research institutes in Germany) is also fairly proportionate: in 2005, German research produced 8.4 percent of the publications cited in the Science Citation Index, and the US received four and a half times more R & D expenditure for 30 , 8 percent of SCI records on.

The “relationship of care”, ie the ratio of students to scientific staff, is similar: according to the OECD statistics, a university has a good 12 students in German universities and just under 16 in the USA.

But a first big structural difference is only a small step away: the personnel structure. Nearly half of the academic staff at US universities are professors, about one-third of them assistant professors who do not yet have a permanent position, but are mostly on a “tenure track”, at the end of which, if there is a positive evaluation, the permanent position is available. In Germany, on the other hand, not even a quarter of academics at universities are professors, and German junior scientists are at a age when their American colleagues already hold the first (assistant) professorship, usually assistants with fixed-term contracts – and little or no teaching obligation.

On the other hand, much of the apprenticeship at US universities is for part-time workers who have little chance of getting a permanent job: overall, the share of these part-time workers has risen from one-third to almost half in the last 20 years.

At the research universities, however, it is only one quarter; There, doctoral students as “teaching assistants” are responsible for a considerable part of the teaching. While only a good quarter of students are enrolled at the research universities, nearly half of the full-time academic staff work there. Overall, the ratio of academic staff to students is 1 to 13 (1 in 10 for German universities) in this sector, which is most comparable to German universities. The surprisingly good statistical “support ratio” at German universities results to a large extent from the fact that many scientific employees are counted who do not teach (independently).

Another fundamental difference concerns the relationship between higher education and the employment system. About half of the undergraduate studies are in general education courses that have no direct relation to the main subject (“major”). The relatively weak specialization in the first degree course is usually not compensated by subsequent postgraduate studies. Rather, the vast majority of undergraduate graduates enter the profession and only a minority return to college to earn a higher degree. Ten years later, only 26 percent of undergraduate graduates born in 1992/93 had earned another academic degree, usually a master’s degree (20 percent) or a first-professional degree in subjects such as law or medicine Undergraduate courses are offered. The completion of the vocational qualification is therefore to a much greater extent than in Germany to the companies and institutions in which the graduates work.

While in Germany many professions outside the higher education system are being trained, in the US this task is fulfilled by two-year courses at community colleges. These make up almost 40 percent of the American higher education system. Only about one-third of their students ever earn an associate degree, and most seek practical careers.

Overall, the American higher education system is more differentiated than German, where the majority of students are enrolled in two types of higher education institutions – universities and colleges. The current Carnegie classification distinguishes six “basic” categories, which in turn are broken down by size, breadth of subject, and student clientele. Of the 282 research universities that include Germany’s best known colleges (and many that hardly anyone has heard of), there are 4.9 million students, 28 percent of the total. Popular rankings, notably U.S. News & World Report, refer to individual types of institutions, e.g. national (research) universities, undergraduate colleges, regional colleges, etc. The leading colleges are as good as the most prestigious research universities, by standards such as the scores of their undergraduate or post-graduate degrees. The reputation of higher education institutions and the career prospects of graduates thus depend at least as much on the relative place within a category as on the membership of a particular type of institution.

The importance of private universities is one of the most striking differences between the two systems. However, in the United States, 74 percent of the students are state colleges (even if one deducts the almost entirely public community colleges, there are still 62 percent). Because state universities charge heavily reduced fees for “country children” (and are subsidized by state taxpayers to compensate for this), they are more accessible to students from low-income families.

Of course, public universities are so selective in the top group that students from poorer families are strongly underrepresented. One measure of this is the proportion of students with Pell grants from federal funds. Nationwide, the proportion of these students, whose parents usually earn under $ 35,000, at 29 percent. Of the top 30 universities, only the campuses of the University of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley are above average at 37 and 31 percent, respectively, probably because of the high proportion of students from poor but educational families of Asian descent. By contrast, private elite universities such as Harvard, Stanford, or MIT, as well as their state-owned competitors such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia Tech, only have shares ranging from 11 percent to 14 percent.

The most striking (and perhaps most difficult to catch up) difference between German and American universities is probably the financial endowment. In 2005, public universities with four-year study programs (ie without community colleges) had over $ 26,000 per student, private even over $ 38,000 (each with no health care revenues). German universities were available in the same year almost 11,000 euros per student, after purchasing power parities that is about 12,000 dollars. Much of the difference in resource allocation is accounted for by tuition, donations, and revenue from (formerly donated) property: US tuition alone raised an average of $ 4,600 per student in 2005, $ 12,000 private from tuition fees alone.

With regard to the governance structure, German universities now seem to be approaching the American model: university presidents in the United States are not appointed by university members, but by an external university council whose members are appointed by the state government at public universities. At private universities, they are usually won from the ranks of alumni and donors.

And even in the US, the influence of governments and donors with the appointment of the president is not over. The congress has just passed a new law on higher education, which covers no less than 1,150 pages. Of course, this regulatory rage hardly touches the core of academic autonomy: in the really important decisions about academic profile, vocations and study programs, the universities have extensive freedom.

This article is based on the report 2018 of the DAAD branch office New York, first published in: DAAD (ed.): Reports of the branch offices 2018. Bonn 2018, P. 78 to 102

Peanuts: German universities, viewed from America


The current reconstruction of German universities is considered by many to be Americanization. This may flatter the American, but it is also surprising in view of the widespread anti-Americanism, which seems, at least at first glance, to prevail among many German intellectuals. The German universities are Americanized at best on the surface. However, finding that they lack an indispensable element – money – would be too easy.

The loudly propagated Excellence Initiative, which in recent years has used the energy of countless German university members and consumed a myriad of working hours that could have been invested more productively in research and teaching, this initiative could probably only be considered as a means, a few Spice up universities at the expense of many others. The economic stalemate that the universities have undergone is artfully hidden under the neat costume of a reform.

Despite the enormous whirlwind and crazy-looking katzbalriages that preceded the elite status of a handful of establishments: only the money counts. Undoubtedly, the distributed 1.9 billion euros are first an impressive sum. On a larger scale, however, such an amount, to use a common term, is peanuts.

Of course, some of these funds have been and will be spent wisely. The competition for research funding is in itself a healthy affair. However, whether such a centralized competition can really be forward-looking is a completely different question. How useful may an investment be in projects that sometimes represent little more than a miracle bag of private professorial hobbyhorses, when at the same time households are being drastically cut short for long-term priorities such as libraries and employees? Germany still invests far too small a percentage of its gross national product in education compared to other industrial nations. According to the latest available statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2004), the US spends about 4.1 percent of its gross national product on education at all levels. In contrast, German education spending amounts to 3.5 percent.

Switzerland is 4.5 percent, Hungary 3.5 percent. More informative, however, is that 2.9 percent of GDP is spent on higher education in the United States – in Germany this figure is 1.1 percent, the same as in Slovakia and Greece. No wonder the German universities are suffering.

The award of elite status brings a lucky university affected by it, 20 to 80 million euros. Certainly not a “shabby” sum that you can make fun of. But considering that this money will be distributed to many institutes over the long five-year period, the amount will no longer seem so significant very quickly. Harvard now has over $ 35 billion. In 2007 alone, the university received $ 615 million from foundations of friends and alumni.

This year alone, Harvard spent $ 596 million on investment and $ 340 million on student financial support, plus $ 61 million in student jobs and $ 30 million in student loans. Over the past decade, the university has employed nearly 100 new faculty members.

But of course such comparisons are superfluous. Wherever the elite university model is discussed, the unavoidable litany of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton resounds. It would be more appropriate, however, to compare the standard of German public universities with the best public universities in the USA, such as the University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, Indiana University (Bloomington) and Texas (Austin). These facilities are largely funded by taxpayers’ funds and they are all centers of excellence, with centers of teachers, huge libraries and leading programs for the advanced and, of course, the “excellent” students.

But public universities in the US also benefit from a culture of philanthropy that does not exist in this form in Germany. The Ann Arbor State University of Michigan has received no less than $ 2.5 billion from private sources between 2004 and 2007, including more than $ 300 million from more than 120,000 individuals in 2007. It’s not that the Germans would not be generous; The public generally responds very regularly to this or that donation call. The main problem is that the tax system is not designed to reward and adequately appreciate philanthropy and charitable giving that would be directed at higher education institutions.

Another relevant point seems strange against the background of German discourse on this topic. What makes an elite university elitist in the US is not its financial status or the research profile of its members, but simply the quality of its students. The whole system of public and private institutions, of course, is based on licensing procedures, which make a rigorous selection on the basis of aptitude and aptitude, but not, as is often simplistic, on the basis of solvency: many students receive full financial support from the university and many other significant loans and scholarships. Tuition fees may also be much higher in public institutions than in many other places in Germany. The view that public education is “for nothing” is illusory. Laboratories and libraries do not fall from the sky, and at a certain level, you get what you’re willing to pay for.

Maybe all such comparisons will miss the target. One should take note in Germany that the local university system is simply different, and that one must not liquidate these differences lightly. What irony, if Germany in the drive for Americanization of its higher education gave up exactly the characteristics of its system, which sought to emulate the American universities in the 19th century. The German universities are introducing new bachelor and master programs, but these are hardly similar to their so-called namesakes in the USA. It lacks the freedom that allows students to choose their own course of study.

Of course, there are also purely practical problems. Together with the urge to declare a few institutions the “elite”, the call came to separate teaching from research. Such a separation would be nothing less than a disaster. There is already a deep dislike and disillusionment at German universities. All employees, including the junior professors, need and deserve at least a few opportunities to be able to deal completely with their research tasks and not have to worry about the interests of the lecture theater during this time. But there is hardly a place where contact with students and younger colleagues would not greatly enhance the conceptual rethinking of complex research problems. Research without contact to the challenges of the lecture hall petrified. Research-based teaching, on the other hand, remains the best precaution against academic solipsism and, moreover, is the appropriate way to ensure the survival of highly specialized subjects. At present, a number of academic specialties, in which Germany was once a leader, at least in the humanities a slow but sure extinction contrary.

A much-publicized concept, whose name comes from the American dictionary, is “sponsorship”. But this word can not be heard on any American campus, and if it is, then at most in relation to sport (another scandal, but that’s another story). The term smells of advertising and commercial support for athletes – quite fitting when you look at the race for third-party funding, which today seems to determine the everyday lives of most German academics. Donations of this kind are enormously important, of course also in the USA, but above all in the natural sciences. Again, there are important differences between our two systems. American universities have always relied on tuition and basic equipment to support their advanced students. While scientists work as a team, humanities graduate students mostly research alone. In contrast, the offspring in Germany are rounded up in large Collaborative Research Centers and Research Training Groups. Ideally, these groups lead to interdisciplinarity. In addition, they are of course an important source for scholarships. However, the relentless hunt for outside funding threatens the independence of such projects, especially when the siren of academic fashions resounds, which can bring about real innovation but can also lead to a diminution of intellectual sophistication. I will never forget the speech of a dean of a prominent German university on the occasion of the opening of a special research area, which said he had to explain: “The age of the individual researcher is over!” I was tempted to exclaim, “Not with me!”

In order to keep such activities going, employees have to invest more and more time in fundraising and, if successful, more time to manage the funds raised. Since such tasks are then transferred to newly-appointed junior professors – or even an Americanism that has lost much of its importance through translation – these younger colleagues have less time for research. At the better American universities, the younger employees are being released for research so that they can continue their permanent employment. Of course, their ability to teach effectively also plays a role.

The hunt for third party funds leads to a further inflationary spiral. Unlike in the US, enormous amounts of energy and money are invested in colloquia in Germany, the main purpose of which is to raise new funds to finance the next round of colloquia. Some of these meetings bring useful results, but most do not. Such gatherings are supposed to promote “networking”, it is said, as if this were already a worthwhile goal in itself.

Although this term has been enthusiastically adapted by German academics, in English it has quite negative connotations that make one think of the mutual enhancement of favors. The endless loop of colloquiums, on which everyone talks, but hardly anyone listens, in turn invites one to hunt for the next, the newest, the most up-to-date method, or better, that which is again termed an “turn” by an English term. These “turns” are now so numerous and so fast, that one’s head buzzes, that at least you get the feeling, you turn in circles. The German Research Foundation and institutions such as the Gerda Henkel Foundation, which support exactly this spiral and send hosts of academics on a continuous trip from one lecture hall to the next (like in southern, sunnier climes) should consider whether the distributed for such purposes massive support that many American academics can only be jealous of (especially if it results in scientific tomes that would never see the light of day for publishing commerce, their printing would not have been paid for by public funds), no better for sustainable infrastructure and could be used to set up or support additional, secure Among other things, this could help to improve the frightening numbers of faculty and students that would simply not be tolerated at most American universities. In the USA there are hardly any seminars with more than 12 to 15 students. In Germany, some participants list hundreds of names, and fellow students often only have to extend their study time by several semesters because they have not found a place in the compulsory events for beginners.

Undoubtedly, the German universities must be reformed – the American way, as well. But let’s face it. What we need is less smoke, more fire – and more money.

About the author The art historian Jeffrey Hamburger is the Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture at Harvard University. He was a fellow of the Humboldt Foundation and is a member of the Advisory Council of the German Manuscript Centers. (The article was translated by Falk Eisermann)

From Research & Teaching :: June 2018

How does the American education system work?

The best universities in the world are to be found in the US – no wonder, because after all, these have in the American education system despite the high tuition fees a particularly high priority.

The school system in the USA

In the US, compulsory education is usually up to the age of 16 or 18, depending on the state. A tripartite school system with Gymnasium, Realschule and Hauptschule as in Germany does not exist in the USA. Differently gifted children attend a school together instead.

The school career of a child begins in America with the six-year “Elementary School”, which starts with the kindergarten and goes to the 6th or 8th grade. In grades 7 to 9 it continues with the “Middle School” or “Junior High School” on. Afterwards, the students attend the “High School”, which is comparable to the German comprehensive school. This school is attended by American teenagers from grades 9 to 12 and 10 to 12, respectively.

The completion of the high school entitles to attend a university. In the USA, university education has a particularly high status. So the US is the nation with the highest percentage of young people attending college.

The school system is state-run, which means that until the completion of compulsory education, everyone has the opportunity to attend school for free. This offer is used by 90% of the students. The remaining 10% attend one of the private schools in the country.

What is the difference between college and university?

The name college or university depends in part on the individual states. At a college, a bachelor’s degree or just a degree can often be done in certain areas. At the University, however, a doctorate is also possible. This is similar to College and University of the German University of Applied Sciences and University.

High tuition for colleges

There are different types of colleges: Undergraduate Schools, Graduate Schools and Professional Schools. In principle, tuition fees are levied at the universities, which far exceed the German tuition fees even at state universities. However, as this branch of education has a very high status, many parents are taking on these high costs. Many have been saving years before for the education of their children. A far more extensive scholarship offer than in Germany also enables socially weak and especially good students to attend a college or a university. Famous American universities include Princeton University, Harvard University, Columbia University and Yale University.






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