Comparing Germany and England on tuition fees is like apples and pears

Thursday 03-09-2015 - 13:31

Today the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) released a report ‘Keeping up with the Germans?: A comparison of student funding, internationalisation and research in UK and German universities’

As the report itself highlights, comparing Germany and England on tuition fees is like comparing apples to pears, since the systems, funding structures and levels of public funding differ.

Any purported failures of the system in Germany do not neatly translate into arguments against abolishing them in England.

Let's not pretend that these purported shortcomings are free of political interests. They are also focused on a particular issue such as quality or access rather than the system as a whole. The specific issues might have another solution rather than re-introduction of fees but it's easy to appeal to that when groups have an agenda.

This is a fallacious comparison used by those opposing fee reform without considering historical and socio-economic differences as well as amount of fees charged and cross-subsidisation.

Universities in both Germany and England may be pushing for increased fees as they need more income under their respective funding structures, so for policymakers it's easy to see tuition fees as the solution to plugging funding gaps rather than system reform.

Universities UK pleaded against reducing tuition fees in England to £6000 using the argument that more support should be given to students for maintenance costs - they are now staying silent at the prospect of scrapping grants and saddling UK students with the highest levels of debt in Europe.

In England we know tuition fees might not put people off university as many young people see higher education as the only option when there are no jobs and funding for non-HE vocational education and historical towards debt have changed over time under austerity.


In Germany we have seen removing tuition fees hasn't encouraged more people to apply but drawing conclusions from these two trends is flawed without taking the wider socio-economic context of the two countries into consideration. Proponents of free education have never claimed tuition fee removal alone would solve the access issue.



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