June 18, 2009

250,000 Germans call for free education for all

The Morning Star Online

A quarter of a million teachers, students and children marched in cities across Germany on Wednesday to demand that the government boost investment to ensure free education for all.

In 80 towns and cities including Berlin, Mainz, Duesseldorf and Munich, as well as in university towns such as Heidelberg and Goettingen, marchers carried their trade union banners and placards reading: "Cough up the cash, rise up against social bandits," "Save education, not only the banks" and "Investment in education = guaranteed returns."

Protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, but some young activists took direct action, blocking the entrances to university buildings and occupying administrative offices.

In Mainz, many protesters took over a state parliament building and covered it in toilet paper.

Since the German constitutional court ruled in 2005 that state governments could start levying tuition fees, around half of them have, while others are in the process of doing so.

The protesters are concerned that this is resulting in a two-tier education system, with budgets for some universities slashed while funds have been injected into "world class" establishments like the Einstein Foundation in Berlin.

A core demand was free education for all and protesters also called for smaller class sizes and better training for teachers and lecturers.

In Berlin, where around 30,000 students took to the streets, they chanted: "We're here and we're loud because our education is being stolen."

University of Potsdam student Marlene Gesche explained that she marched in Berlin because she felt cheated out of a decent education due to insufficient funding.

"I'm here protesting because I'm not really learning anything at my university," Ms Gesche said, adding that "there's no money for books and often a lack of instructors."

But ministers insist that German education standards have risen in recent years.

And while German Rectors Conference head Margret Wintermantel acknowledged that "the student-teacher ratio is a problem," she sought to defend the introduction of fees.

"It's wrong to say that tuition fees limit equal opportunity for access to higher education," she asserted, claiming that "we haven't seen a decline in attendance where tuition fees have been introduced."

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