All save Halle?
Even though more money for universities has appeared on the horizon, the Minister of Academic Affairs is insisting on cutbacks. Only MLU has been refusing to suggest concrete cutbacks on themselves. The advocacy network "Aktionsbündnis MLU" is calling for a rally on December 2nd.Prorector Dieter Körholz expressed surprise when a delegation of students showed up to hand over a petition to preserve the Japanese Studies department. As of November 19th, more than 1000 signatures had already been collected, some of them from Japan and other countries. Körholz, who is responsible for academic education at Martin Luther University, asserted that Japanese Studies were not even up for debate at this time. The online petition, which is open until December 3rd, has been triggered by ambiguous wording in the university development plan of MLU.
Universities in the state of Saxony-Anhalt are required to ease the government budget by 4.7 million Euro in each of the next five years, totalling a cut of 24 million Euro over the whole period. This has been stipulated in the agreement of Bernburg, signed by all rectors. And this is what the Minister of Economic and Academic Affairs, Hartmut Möllring (Christian Democratic Union) is referring to when he expects that unis offer saving proposals on their own. These measures will then be set in target agreements, which in turn are a prerequisite for allowing universities to manage funds received from the state government on their own.
4.7 million: just a year ago this was deemed a major concession, obtained under the pressure of large rallies in Halle and Magdeburg. After all, the state is preparing for new budget rules known as „debt brake» and was initially planning much more drastic cuts. But the world moves on and from Berlin the gleam of hope is shining brighter than ever. Since May of this year it has been known that Germany’s federal government will assume all funding for BAföG study grants from 2015 onwards, thus relieving the budgets of the federal states. Saxony-Anhalt is expecting a benefit of a little over 28 million Euro next year. The actual relief could be even more substantial, considering that the state had contributed 39.35 million Euro to BAföG grants in 2012. In mid-November, federal education minister Johanna Wanka told public radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur that the „main intention» of this move was to „boost the core funding of universities» with these additional funds.
Besides, the Higher Education Pact is going to be continued past 2016 until 2020. As it took until late October for the federal government and state governments to agree on these subsidies for additional admissions, universities have so far been unable to include these funds in their budget planning. In addition, Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, has relaxed the cooperation ban. This means that the federal government will be allowed to contribute funds to academic education. In 2006, within the reform of the federal system, the states had still enforced their full control in educational matters. These days however, they are unlikely to refuse financial contributions from the federal government. Therefore, Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat (federal council) is certain to approve the bill.
In view of these financial prospects, can cutbacks with a substantial impact on universities still be justified? The answer of Saxony-Anhalt’s finance minister Jens Bullerjahn (Social Democratic Party) is yes, they can. Half of the BAföG benefit, which amounts to 15 million according to the federal state, is to be spent on schools. The other half will benefit the „area of universities/research», but will go into research projects and investments instead of core funding. Students will gain little from this, says Daniel Möbus, academic policy officer of MLU student council. „Besides, with falling tax revenues the finance minister wants to dip even into this BAföG cash.» According to the current tax forecast, next year the state of Saxony-Anhalt will collect 97 million Euro less than estimated in May. In July 2013, the Landtag (state parliament) has voted for maintaining the number of student admissions, but this fails to impress even the Minister of Academic Affairs. What he considered crucial were the decisions which the parliament „is laying down to us in the budget plan», he told the newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. The state universities‘ rectors continue to feel committed to the agreement of Bernburg. Save the rector of Martin Luther University.
In their draft for the university development plan, the rector’s office is arguing against the federal state’s demand for cutbacks. Many fields were either touching MLU’s focuses of research or essential tasks for the state. Four out of five subjects the state had suggested for closing (Earth Sciences, Computer Science, Psychology and Sports Science) were essential for the education of future teachers, Computer Science being important to a focus of research as well. Concerning the fifth candidate, Media and Communication Studies, the state government itself had expressed interest in strengthening this discipline on state level. In any case, MLU could achieve the required amount for cutbacks in the next five years only by closing around 15 institutes, which would amount to losing about 8000 students.
The plan is, in fact, suggesting some measures, some of which are probably not what the state had in mind. Musical education could be outsourced to a newly created state university while Media and Communication Studies could be funded by a „cooperation platform»—these steps would hardly help the state save money. The Studienkolleg, which offers preparatory courses to international prospective students, has been mentioned as well; though according to MLU, Saxony-Anhalt would have got to amend their higher education act in order to close the branch in Halle. Still, the „Centre for Engineering Sciences», a residual product of restructuring measures in 2006, will be losing enough personnel over the next five years to save two million Euro.
Last Hope Rally?
So what about Japanese Studies? As a matter of fact, they are not designated as a possible target for cutbacks. In another chapter, the plan is quoting suggestions by the German Science and Humanities Council (Wissenschaftsrat) to discuss a „greater focus or a relocation» of some smaller disciplines. Japanese Studies are mentioned here alongside South Asian Studies, Indian Studies and Armenian Studies. On the other hand, Oriental Studies, Social and Cultural Anthropology, and Archaeology are considered „strong areas of MLU». The creators of the petition are worrying that this means Japanese Studies are ranking lower and may face a reduction or a close-down and relocation to Leipzig. But even if the uni has got neither in mind, the state government may prefer to read the passage in a different way.
While MLU is standing up for their endangered institutes, the government of Saxony-Anhalt wants to remain tough. It’s not just universities that face a cutback: schools, cities/municipalities and cultural institutions will be affected as well. Before the Landtag adopts the state’s twin budget for 2015/16, the advocacy network „Aktionsbündnis MLU» is calling for a rally on December 2nd, hoping for a similar number of participants as in the past two years.
In any case, hot drinks have already been organised.
- Rally on Tuesday, December 2nd: 2.00 pm departure at Moritzburg,
4.00 pm arrival at Opernhaus, followed by some speeches