IN depth

Berlin: A paradise for Brexit refugees?

image: wikimedia commons

The prospect of a ‘no-deal Brexit’, which would sharply hinder British science in its cooperation with the continent at large, is looming on the horizon. This coupled with rising tuition fees is driving British students away, and Berlin is all too happy to have them




This is a troubling time for British universities. The prospect of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ threatens to severely damage research funding, and force UK scientists out of EU research projects, all while tuition fees creep slowly higher. When the government, however, starts taking an interest in the way that lecturers teach about the way Brexit is being implemented, as we have now witnessed with Chris Heaton-Harris’s letter to university staff, inquiring about ‘Brexit lecturers’, students would be forgiven for being concerned for the academic integrity of their institutions.

It’s really no wonder then that British students are looking elsewhere for their education. And where better than Germany? An integral member of the EU, which isn’t changing anytime soon, with free tuition and an international reputation. The British Council ranks Germany as third globally in international student mobility, beaten only by Hong Kong and the Netherlands, and first in terms of diploma recognition



Anti-Brexit sentiment is highest among the 18-25s, and higher still among students. A combination of factors such as the possibility of dual-nationality for expats, and the general political climate at home makes moving abroad to remain in the EU an attractive prospect for some British students. Germany specifically, accepts dual nationality, but only with other member states.

Oxford PPE graduate, Gen Hall decided to take advantage of this possibility while he still could, and applied for German citizenship after the Brexit vote. He now lives in Berlin, learning German at the GLS language school. For him, the effects of the UK’s imminent break with the EU are very real and tangible. He fears that a reduction in student mobility will severely damage the state of higher education in the UK. “Most of my friends at uni are either European, or somehow linked to Europe,” he said “I can see in 3 years, those people not going to Oxbridge, but to the United States instead”.

without these people, you lose a channel of knowledge

This fear may be well placed, as a mixture of Brexit and the UK government’s stance on immigration will almost certainly cost British students their access to Erasmus+. The EU mobility programme, which sent over 15,000 Brits abroad for studies and traineeships in 2013/14, sends hundreds of thousands of European students abroad to study every year. There may, of course, be a replacement programme, to allow these practices to continue as is done in Switzerland, but that remains to be seen.

Many British students feel that this prospect of a kind of ‘brain-drain’ of European students choosing not to study in the UK would have a negative impact on their own studies. Gen comments that in his experience “a lot of uni learning is peer to peer based, so without these people you’re really losing a channel of knowledge.” The decreasing size of the pool of lecturers from which universities can hire is also something that concerns him; believing that the combination of these phenomena will lead to a real blinkering of British students’ horizons.



Berlin specifically has become a target for Brits wanting to escape Brexit. It’s an international city with a thriving expat community, making it a very attractive destination for English speakers. Students who don’t necessarily speak a lick of German are flocking to the city in their thousands, attracted by its cheap living compared to British cities, free tuition and English-taught courses. The fact that the very internationalised, gentrified areas are almost like a little England, and can be navigated without uttering a single word of German, makes Brits feel at home.

Berlin’s internationalisation has, for better or worse, made the English language something of a fashion statement, with an emerging trend of Germans speaking English to one another. This may be to the disgust of proud Germans: Jens Spahn, a German deputy finance minister spoke out earlier this year against English speaking waiters: “It drives me up the wall the way waiters in Berlin restaurants only speak English.” Though it may be frustrating for the locals whose English is not so good, this ubiquity of the English language in Berlin is a big pull-factor for expats from English speaking countries.



It was the city’s cultural centre that attracted Bristol language student, Daniel Schaffert to Berlin: “European literature, particularly in places such as Scandinavia and Germany, has slowly been gaining popularity internationally,” he explained “and Germany has always been considered ‘das Land der Dichter und Denker’ (the country of poets and thinkers)”. This is just one facet of Berlin as a city experiencing a cultural golden age. There are more artists in Berlin than any other European city, over 20,000 of them, thanks in part to the city’s rock-bottom living costs compared to the rest of Germany, and indeed Europe.

German literature has been gaining popularity internationally



These very same low living costs, combined with Germany having no tuition fees lead to an inevitable wave of ‘tuition fee refugees’ after the cap on British fees was raised to £9,000. In 2007-08, 994 Brits went to study in Germany, and by 2015-16 this had almost doubled to 1,947.

Not all British students, however, adapt well to the starkly different student cultures between Germany and the UK. German universities are much harder to integrate into, says one Brit who went to study in Germany, but decided to drop out and return home: “due to the fact that there are basically no ‘societies’, I found it really hard to meet up with and get to know other students.” While in the UK, studying at a university is seen as a social experience, just as much as a means to become qualified, in Germany, students are much more likely to be there just for the degree, choosing institutions closer to home.

Whether Berlin is a realistic option for the average British student is debatable, but the steadily climbing number of Brits going to study in Germany shows no sign of relenting, and the factors pushing them away from their homeland are only growing direr. As a ‘no-deal’ Brexit begins to look like a very real prospect, who’s to know what kind of landscape British students are to expect in their native higher education in the near future?

By Ewan Consterdine

Corporate hands on Horizon 2020

Interview with Martin Pigeon of Corporate Europe Observatory, Brussels

This summer, an interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 was produced for the European parliament, and stakeholders have started submitting their proposals for the upcoming programme FP9. The head of the commission responsible for the assessment of Horizon 2020 was MEP Soledad Ruiz Cabezón. She criticised that big corporations are grabbing too much of these public research funds. It seems that much of these funds have been transformed into industry subsidies, without producing additional research.

.... portrait
  Martin Pigeon is a researcher and campaigner for the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory or C.E.O. in Brussels. C.E.O. works to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making.

Monsieur Pigeon, you research corporations’ influence on EU science policy and the way funds are distributed. What are the developments?

In general, I would say it’s worse now than it was under FP7 (7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) in terms of the capacity for industry to capture public research. A simple observation is that Horizon 2020 is already a much larger programme than FP7, which had a budget of 50 billion euros, while Horizon 2020’s is 70 billion, and FP9 will probably be 120 billion euros. This is going to be a major, major battle for subsidies, and the larger companies are always better at getting them.

MEP Cabezón’s report points in this direction ...

I think Ms Cabezón was referring to the fact that Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation has been complaining about the need to introduce transparent accounting methods to evaluate companies’ contributions to public-private partnerships (PPPs). You might know that in these PPPs the companies’ contribution is made in kind, whereas the EU is contributing actual money. So if you take, for example, the Innovative Medicines Innitiative (IMI), the total budget is three billion euros, but only 1.6 billion of this is paid in actual money, and the rest is an in kind contribution. So basically, companies just declare what they spend, and as of yet there’s no way to actually verify the figure.

Public-Private Partnerships, what role do they play in the EU’s research policy?

If you look at the general share of EU research funding granted to PPPs in research funding programs, there has been a huge increase. In FP7, the figure was 9.1%, while in Horizon 2020 it’s more than doubled to 21.5%. Across the same time span, however, the share for research and development in the EU has not increased, but remained at around 2.04 percent.

It is big money we’re talking about here: 15 billion euros, so we should be able to see some trace of it, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. My working hypothesis on this is that this funding has been replacing research capacities, rather than adding to them. This is consistent with some of our findings from the IMI from the pharmaceutical sector. It was found that IMI projects simply replicate work that the companies would have had to do anyway.

EU funding has been replacing research capacities, rather than adding to them

So the EU is effectively subsidising these corporations?

Exactly. In a way, this is a sign. The fact that there is such a thing as industrial policy, reflects the dominant political priorities of our time. I deplore it, because I don’t agree with it, but they are in the majority in the Commission and the EU parliament. The idea of funding industry to help with competitiveness, using public money to subsidise private industry, creates a lot of problems down the line.

There is this general incentive to establish PPPs between universities and companies, which is being used as an excuse to cut public research budgets. This undermines the independence of public researchers. Typically, when you have research funded by companies, they have control over the publication, so there is a very strong bias over the kind of results that get published. If the results are good, great! But if the results are bad, then the funder can refuse publication. This practice pollutes scientific literature in a systematic manner.

A recent C.E.O. report talks about conflicts of interest. The EU needs external experts, of course, but aren’t they impartial?

I would say this is symptomatic of the nature of these expert panels. The way the process works is like this: European Technology Platforms (ETPs) gather all the relevant industry players in a given field. This group then writes a strategic report on the research priorities, and this is then used to advise the EU Commission to organise its own calls for proposals. The same people who participated in this process then apply for this funding. Obviously if you had a part in how the system is organised, you’re going to have a head start on others.

This is only worsened by the fact that the EU is forcing PPPs on public research centres and universities, meaning that as time goes by, it becomes more and more difficult to find an expert who isn’t financially dependent on a regulated company.

the same people who participated in this process then apply for the funding

To conclude, can we really go on trusting the public institutions, the European Commission to manage research in the interests of the public?

Now is not a time for business as usual, it wasn’t in 2011, and it’s not now. There is very little democratic involvement in these programs. People tend to think it’s too technical, or just for scientists, or that it’s not a political question, but this is a huge mistake. Deciding what kind of knowledge we want to invest in as a society is an immensely political question.

It’s very depressing actually, to be living in an age where we know, if you look at things like climate change, if you look at things like the biodiversity collapse or the rise of antimicrobial resistance: three small issues, each threatening the survival of humanity itself. And if we look at the EU research funding, which, if there is a policy that could be used to tackle these issues, this is the one. And to see that this is being run by big businesses, who ensure that all this money goes to them… to see such irresponsibility in such a time is very depressing.

Horizon 2020 Evaluations

The purpose of the interim evaluation is to contribute to the implementation of Horizon 2020 in its last Work Programme, in order to provide the evidence-base for the report of the High Level Group on maximising the impact and to inform the design of future Framework Programmes. Following the Better Regulation Guidelines, it looks at Horizon 2020 from five different angles: relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, coherence, and EU added value

European Commission
Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, May 2017
... Assessment of Horizon 2020 Implementation in view of its interim evaluation and the Framework Programme 9 proposal

On 24 May 2016, the Rapporteur was entrusted with the task of preparing a report on the implementation of the Horizon 2020 programme. The timing of the adoption by the European Parliament of its implementation report was aligned with the timetable of the Commission, who will adopt its proposal for FP9 in spring 2018.

Soledad Ruiz Cabezón
EP Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, June 2017

Interview by Tino Brömme. Editor: Ewan Consterdine
This article was first published by
Neues Deutschland, August 26/27, 2017

New push for private higher ed in Greece

auf Deutsch

image: Protothema

The debate on Constitutional reform that could end the prohibition of private universities in Greece has resurfaced in Parliament and in the press. Meanwhile, British and American private colleges in the region fight against the odds for recognition.



Debate has intensified in recent weeks and months in Greece over the possibility of giving privately run colleges university status, which is currently prohibited by Article 16 of the Greek constitution. Discussions were ignited when opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis seized the occasion of a parliamentary debate on constitutional reform in October to demand the abolishment of the barrier to private universities.


The state monopoly on universities originates from the days of Greece’s fascist junta, which wished to prevent communists creating private universities. This principle has since been enshrined in Article 16, adopted in the new constitution of 1974, and now its function has been inverted, with the left using the exclusion of private providers to defend public education.

image: Nea Dimokratia“No discussion on higher education can be made if change of Article 16 of the Constitution is not put at the heart of it,” stated Mitsotakis, Nea Dimokratia’s party chief, in Parliament. The Greek ‘Labour Party’ PASOK supports this claim. Deputy prime minister in previous PASOK governments, Evangelos Venizelos, has criticised Syriza for not taking the right steps to privatise the public sector, to which Greece’s universities belong.

Syriza, holding 144 of the 153 seats in Greece’s governing coalition, has many members who are university professors and who took part in the student uprising of the 1970s against the fascist regime. Their stance is expressed in a party declaration on the anniversary of the uprising, defending Greece’s public universities as “strongholds of democracy.”

public universities, strongholds of democracy

The public appears to be as divided as the parliament. A poll conducted late last year for the Athens Chamber of Commerce found 49% of respondents to be in favour of allowing private universities with degrees equivalent to those of public institutions.


There are already a number of private institutions, or colleges, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in Greece. To get around the barrier of Article 16, these colleges are run as faculties or franchises of foreign universities, or their degrees are validated by foreign accreditation agencies such as UK NARIC or the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) based in Massachusetts.

Twenty-two of these colleges, such as the British Hellenic College and the Business College of Athens, are predominantly affiliated with UK universities, and six are American, the American College of Greece (ACG) perhaps being the most prestigious. French, Belgian and Swiss universities are also active in the region in a similar way.

Around 15,000 students attend these private colleges in Greece, 11,000 of whom are at British affiliated colleges, according to the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). There are no comprehensive data available on the proportion of international students at these institutions, but judging by numbers given on the websites of the ACG and the Hellenic American College, around 20-25% of students are non-Greek nationals, significantly more than the 2.5% at public universities.

image: logoThe business-oriented nature of private colleges is reflected in their prices as well as in the degree programmes themselves. Anatolia College, comprising of an elementary and high school as well as the American College of Thessaloniki, recorded revenues of $25 million in 2012, with an MBA carrying an annual price tag of €12,960. Statistics from QAA show that teaching at these colleges is often focused on business and administrative studies, with 5,000 of the 11,000 students at UK affiliated institutions subscribed to such programmes.


But private colleges in Greece by no means share parity with their public counterparts in terms of recognition or reputation. On account of Article 16, the Greek state long refused to recognise degrees from private colleges. But an EU ruling stating that degrees accredited by other Member States must be recognised as equivalent led to a 2008 law granting graduates of private colleges ‘professional rights’. That is to say, permission to work in the public sector (except as an academic or physician) where before they could only find employment in private companies.

The reality, however, has yet to catch up with the legislation. 3,300 college degrees were submitted for recognition to the Greek accreditation body SAEP between 2012 and 2015, but the organisation only resolved to process the submissions in December, which must be followed by written tests before graduates’ degrees are certified as professionally equivalent.

The Greek state seems to have little faith in the quality of provision at private colleges. Carolyn Campbell, senior consultant at the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, used to work at QAA and tells of the Greek authorities’ accusations of low quality, ‘fly-by-night’ colleges. She finds the claims to be baseless. “When we asked the Greek authorities to give us exact examples, we never ever got any,” says Campbell, “For 20 years students have been graduating, finding jobs, going on to do Master’s degrees and doctorates. It’s very frustrating.”

the reform debate is strongly ideological

Gabriel Alexopoulos, Financial Controller of ACG, contends claims of low quality, too. “How bad is a marketing graduate from ACG going to be when some of our alumni have gone on to top positions in companies like Coca Cola and Pfizer?” he wonders.

Recent scandals involving private universities in Cyprus, including the awarding of worthless degrees, are still fresh in the minds of the Greek public. “Private college degrees don’t have a very good reputation,” says Ioannis Zelepos, professor of Modern Greek History in Munich. But, he concedes, “Some of the arguments against reform seem to me to be strongly ideological. Our public institutions insist on high quality, but they don’t always ensure it themselves.”


Indeed, austerity has placed Greece’s public higher education system in dire straits financially, with some universities lacking the funds to pay for paper, not to mention professors being forced to work for months without pay.

As a result of the bailout programmes imposed by the EU and the IMF, Greek public higher education suffered a 75 percent cut to its budget five years ago with 15 to 25 percent slashed each subsequent year. The University of Crete, for instance, had a budget of €17.5 million in 2011 and now it is just €3.1 million. Hiring of professors has ceased countrywide, so that last year only 300 positions out of 900 vacancies were filled after years of uncertainty for the scientific community.

image: Tombros Markoulakis KaratzasSome, like
Skevos Papaioannou, a sociologist from Crete now teaching at the University of Kassel, believe that “the defunding of state higher education could well be an intentional tactic to make private universities seem a necessary remedy to the sector’s ailments.” On the other hand, Panagiotis Glavinis, a law professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, is convinced that “competition with high quality private universities is needed in order to improve public higher education services.”

Glavinis believes private universities could help in combatting the effects of brain drain, too. Almost half a million young professionals have left Greece since 2008 and 36,000 Greeks currently study abroad, a third of whom are in the UK alone, according to the latest data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Well-to-do Greek families were sending their children to foreign universities long before the term brain drain was even coined. Mitsotakis studied at Stanford, Venizelos did his Master’s in Paris, and Syriza’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis attended the University of Essex.

high mobility costs would be reduced

“Certainly the high mobility costs would be reduced for families. But I have my doubts that the introduction of private universities alone would stop brain drain and radically improve the situation,” says professor Zelepos.


So what are the odds of changing the law? When the Greek parliament reached a rare consensus to alter Article 16 in 2006, there were violent demonstrations across the country which succeeded in halting reform. Another attempt by the PASOK government in 2012 also came to nothing.

If Article 16 were to find its way onto Syriza’s agenda of constitutional reform during this parliament, another parliament is needed to ratify these terms with a two thirds majority. So if Syriza can complete its mandate up until 2019, private universities could, in theory, be legalised by 2020.

This, however, is highly improbable. Syriza is still firmly opposed to legalising private universities and doesn’t look to be changing its position any time soon.

As for the future of private colleges, Gabriel Alexopoulos remains positive. “I’m optimistic,” he says. “I’m not optimistic we’ll see Article 16 change soon, but the law of 2008 giving our graduates ‘professional rights’ helps us a lot and I believe that in three or four years our degrees will be fully accepted by everyone and our graduates will stop experiencing delays in getting their degrees recognised.”

By Tino Brömme and Barnaby Britten
The article has first been published Feb. 3, 2017, in The PIE News

The devil’s wishlist

Free trade and higher education policy in 2016

image: ESNA

The awareness of the threat posed to the public realm by international ‘free trade’ agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, between the economies of the European Union and the United States has been heightened by the publication of new leaks and criticism from leading intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange.
The general public is, however, less conscious of the fact that these treaties also “pose significant risks to public education… and could have the effect of locking in and intensifying the pressures of privatisation and commercialisation,” as the European Trade Union Committee for Education, or ETUCE, has warned.



The European university sector, precisely because of its almost entirely publicly funded and intensely regulated status, is seen by the negotiating parties as a prime target to be opened up to the market and wrested from state control. ‘Free trade’ is in actual fact a misnomer. In reality it means to legally secure investment in foreign markets. Consequently, interest groups such as ETUCE and the European University Association unambiguously demand that education be excluded from the agreements.

image: EC


US companies hold a strong position in the field of education services, which is apparent from the growing export and surplus of these services since the 1990s, and the US’s chief negotiator, Dan Mullaney, has publicly stated the intention of the US to expand liberalisation for all education services in TTIP. But it would be an easy mistake to see the pressure as coming exclusively from America: equally, the EU is reluctant to consider the possibility that education might be exempted from the scope of trade negotiations because of the aggressive export interests of member states with more clout in the knowledge economy, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands.

More specific information on individual nations’ interests can be found in a leaked document obtained by the BBC in 2015, titled "Trade in Services and Investment: Schedule of specific commitments and reservations". In this document several European countries outlined their ‘red-lines’ of how far they wanted education in the remit of TTIP. France, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Slovakia and the Czech Republic wish to retain the right to choose national educational service providers. Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Malta, Romania and Sweden want privately funded higher education services restricted. Staying true to its market-oriented approach to the sector, the UK made no reservations whatsoever to the implications of TTIP for higher education, but Brexit might make that irrelevant anyway.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, provides a precedent from which to assess the potential consequences of TTIP for European education. In this trade agreement from 1994 between the USA, Canada and Mexico, around one million jobs were lost in the USA, mostly those of people with lower educational qualifications, according to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. The envisaged modernisation of the Mexican higher education sector through NAFTA failed to materialise: the workforce remains largely low paid and unskilled. TTIP would likely have the same effect on poorer EU nations, which would certainly not be desirable in the current centrifugal political climate of the Union.

This problem has already reared its head in Europe as demonstrated by European Court of Justice rulings against Greece, Italy and Spain, and an infringement procedure against Slovenia. EU law acts upon the legal precedents set by previous rulings as quasi-laws, and on several occasions EU member states have defied these rulings to deny foreign private suppliers recognition of their degrees. “In the case of Slovenia’s still undetermined procedure that would mean a considerable loss of quality for our prestigious higher education institutions,” says the Slovenian university researcher and expert on the liberalisation of education, Klemen Miklavic. He adds that this threat would be considerably higher under the terms of the free trade agreements.


a considerable loss of quality

Even if the Maastricht Treaty guarantees the educational sovereignty of a country, these European Court of Justice rulings indicate that ‘market freedom’ is ultimately put first. Specialist law firms are already salivating at the ambiguities in the definitions of ‘public education’, ‘adult education’ and ‘professional services’. This could leave public universities unprotected, even if ostensibly they prevent the inclusion of educational services in TTIP.


logoHowever, in the gigantic Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, between 52 countries, education is explicitly mentioned. According to TiSA documents published by WikiLeaks, “states would be prohibited from requiring [educational] services to have a local presence, or from limiting the participation of foreign capital in such services”. This would be of great interest to corporate giants such as Pearson, the Bertelsmann Group, online education providers like Coursera and in the near future why not also Silicon Valley tech firms. After all, investment dollars in ‘ed tech’ grew by a staggering 503% between 2010 and 2014, as noted by tech market analysis platform CB Insights.

TTIP, and also the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, between Canada and the EU, affect education more indirectly. Central components of the agreements such as freedom of establishment, the principle of equal treatment and the ‘ratchet clause’ would prevent states and communities from taking measures to ensure regional growth, social equality of opportunity and quality management. The ratchet clause prohibits privatised areas from being re-nationalised. For example, now that France has partially privatised student housing, if it ever wished to reverse the decision, it would be in store for millions of euros worth of compensation claims.

Universities would also be subject to the equal treatment principle. During the tendering process, they would no longer be able to give preference to contractors from their own region or to suppliers who pay the minimum wage. This would affect construction projects, cleaning companies, cafeterias, digital service providers and much more.


Many universities also have contracts with Google cloud services or use Microsoft operating systems. Indeed, it is estimated that European universities spend €20 billion (US$22 billion) to €30 billion (US$33 billion) a year on education technology. American tech firms in particular are pushing for ‘free data flow’ and universities’ efforts to limit the appropriation, analysis and exploitation of personal and research-relevant data would be significantly frustrated through international treaties like TTIP.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that schools and universities in Europe currently enjoy exceptions from copyright law for educational purposes. In Germany, for instance, 10% or a maximum of 20 pages of printed copyrighted material can be replicated for teaching. David Robinson, special adviser to Education International, fears that this tradition of copyright exemptions for education may be at risk from international trade agreements. “What’s new in these agreements,” says Robinson, “is intellectual property rights. In CETA and TTIP you see a narrowing of the education exception when it comes to copyright rules, which will impose more costs on the education sector.”


more costs on the education sector

Meanwhile, due to the increasing digitisation of learning, the European University Association has expressly stated its desire for not only the protection but the broadening of the educational copyright exception. Recent publishers’ lawsuits against teaching organisations who make their content digitally available show how contentious this issue already is in Europe without any US involvement.

Education International considers the “linkage between education services and e-commerce, which is becoming increasingly important with the developments around e-learning and electronic education materials”, to be dangerous. American universities and corporations are leading when it comes to online courses, the industry for massive open online courses or MOOCs is growing globally by around 40% a year, market research company M&M estimates. In such a billion-dollar industry, who wouldn’t unhesitatingly hound every university into bankruptcy with an investor protection lawsuit?

Large American education corporations, such as the Apollo Group, whose alleged predatory practices the Barack Obama administration tried and failed to put a stop to, could operate in Europe and insist on the equal treatment principle as well, demanding the same subsidies as local public universities. This is endemic in the US where poor quality for-profit universities receive a quarter of state funds for education while only a tenth of American students attend such institutions. Portfolio manager Steve Eisman estimates that just 9% of these private universities’ revenue is put back into education and sometimes more than half of students drop out every year.


To secure quality in the recognition and accreditation of degrees and institutions is a core component of a university’s role in society. The danger is that even if public education is excluded from the free trade negotiations, in a deregulated public sector, university administrations would be forced to act more and more like profit-oriented businesses, treating students as customers and foreign students as cash cows for tuition fees, speculating on properties or entering the stock exchange. This is not merely dystopian speculation: the University of Perugia, Italy, in partnership with the UniCredit Bank is already offering credit cards to students and has installed ATMs around campus; through property speculation, the University of Amsterdam has racked up debts of almost half a billion euros and since 2015 the Free University of Brussels has been the first market-listed university in Europe.

image: BEHUTogether with teaching, university research is coming under fire. The vice-president for research at the Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, Sebastian von Klinski, warns that research cooperation and contract research are already controversial under EU law, be it the clarification of copyright laws, liability or the general exploitation of patents. The inclusion of American research would compound the issue: “That can definitely get more complicated and also more cost intensive, if the focus there has to be expanded.”

All of these problems would be caused in the first place or intensified by the free trade agreements. As has been illustrated, it is clearly nowhere near sufficient that universities are only demanding education be excluded in the treaties. Unless TTIP, CETA and TiSA are abandoned altogether, in a liberalised public sector, education will find itself struggling to keep its head above water as the tide of the market rises.

By Tino Brömme and Barnaby Britten
This article was
first published by University World News
Sunday, 23 October 2016


Further reading: here

Germany continues Excellence Initiative

With its Excellence Initiative, Germany has boosted the internatiional ranking of several of its leading universities and reversed the brain drain of academics. However some think this approach needs to change.

Germany is adjusting its national research policy strategy in an effort to create their own version of the American Ivy League. 



image: (c) ESNA“We are heading in the right direction. Yet there is more to be done,” says Dieter Imboden – physicist, renowned Swiss science manager and former President of the Swiss National Science Foundation – who for one and a half years has headed an international commission evaluating Germany’s ‘Exzellenzinitiative ’ (Excellence Initiative). “The German universities haven’t been inactive, but to reach the top takes time. It was not to be expected that they would end up in the top 20 of an international ranking in such a short space of time. ETH Zurich, my own university, took fifty years to progress from a mediocre polytechnic institution to a world class university.” 


to reach the top takes time

Set up in 2005 by the German federal and state governments as an extra-budgetary scheme, the ‘Exzellenzinitiative’ aims to promote cutting-edge research, create outstanding conditions for young academics, stimulate interdisciplinary and inter-institutional cooperation and enhance the international appeal of German research universities.

The project is currently preparing to enter its third round of funding in 2018, having invested around €4.6 billion (£3.7 billion) in more than thirty universities in the first two sessions, 2006 to 2012 and 2012 to 2017.

“There is this whole competition of creating world class universities, and Germany wants to be a part of that,” says Hans de Wit, Director of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) in Boston. “I am involved with the advisory board of the University of Göttingen and I see how they also work in a similar way with their excellence initiative, looking very much at local, regional and national, and global at the same time.”

Since the release of Imboden’s report in late January, a parliamentary hearing in Berlin and nationwide panel discussions have been held in order find a political consensus on the initiative’s continuation. In order to be ready by 2018, policy makers, funding bodies, universities and research organisations are working hard to reach an agreement on the new funding rules before this year’s summer break.

image: (c) ESNAAt a panel discussion in mid-February in Berlin, Theresia Bauer, Minister of Science, Education and Arts for Baden-Wurttemberg, spoke of ‘vertical differentiation’ that made “Germany’s elite universities internationally more visible” as an important outcome of the initiative . She supports the idea of introducing a so-called ‘excellence bonus’ that will see the ten or so best-performing universities receive around €15 million (£11.7 million) per annum each.

Until now, funding offered by the initiative has taken three forms: ‘excellence clusters,’ which grants support to researchers in particular fields, ‘graduate schools,’ which support professors in a broad academic field, and the ‘future concepts,’ which look at the development of universities as a whole. “Luckily there is a consensus to continue funding at the same level, of €500 million (£390 million) per annum. But now we could substitute this last funding line and hand out ‘excellence bonuses’ to university presidents whose institutions have a proven record of success. They could use the funding more autonomously and strategically.”

Yet some disagree. Torsten Bultmann, President of the Bund demokratischer Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler (the Association of Democratic Scientists) criticises the initiative. Though it was originally conceived to promote all universities, “it now aims to highlight and deepen differences between them, which … will create a kind of two-tiered higher education system. The Excellence Initiative … has served to rob higher education of personal and financial resources, and, in some ways, of creativity, too.” Bultmann is therefore demanding that the scheme be discontinued and excellent research be promoted through the standard national funding programmes.

     two-tiered higher education system


Rainer Forst, professor and member of an ‘excellence cluster’ at the University of Frankfurt, disagrees. “To believe you can change the democratic committee structure of universities with this little money, is pure fantasy,” he says. For him, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages: “Excellence clusters create a dynamic at universities, which one would not normally have. There is no other instrument with which you can bring together so many new ideas in such a short space of time.”

Though the country’s top universities have been steadily climbing international league tables over the last decade, progress has been slow –sometimes to the point of imperceptibility– causing some to question the effectiveness of the excellence scheme.

However, one clear success of the initiative has been the apparent decline of the so-called ‘brain drain’ in Germany. The scheme has been vital in retaining native academics and creating around 6,000 doctorate and post-doctorate research positions, which have attracted overseas researchers to German universities.

Higher education institutions may be struggling to move up the league tables but, as Imboden points out, excellence takes time and Germany is certainly moving in the right direction.

By ESNA correspondents

University-Business 2015

With her diagnosis, “the Berlin Wall between universities and the economy has fallen,” Valérie Pécresse, then French higher education minister was right. Her optimism, five years ago, was shared across Europe and referred to the start of the opportunity to exploit the fabulous goldmine that is public universities. Some European highlights of the year 2015:


image: M-L NguyenThe Netherlands hit the headlines with their universities having accumulated 800 million euros of debt and additionally several hundred million euros of credit default swaps. The champion must be the University of Amsterdam (UvA), with its credit on the cusp of reaching 400 million euros. UvA has needed the money ever since the Dutch state granted universities ownership of their real estate. As a result UvA and other public institutions such as schools and hospitals have become big consumers of investment banking products.

124 miles south, in Brussels, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) was the first university of continental Europe to join the stock market. Bonds worth 61.5 million euros have been released —money that rector Paul De Knop wants to put towards the renovation of university buildings. In Knop’s view, the state is an unreliable financier, “therefore we are aiming for mixed funding— half public, half private.”

      where there can be no market,
    it is simulated


In Great Britain, rents of student flats have increased 25 percent in 3 years, which is twice as much as rents in general. Student housing is a profitable market, indirectly subsidised by maintenance grants and always kept on scarce supply. The investments in this sector have multiplied by eight since 2010, according to the real estate company JLL, and have a nationwide value of 3.8 billion pounds (5.1 billion euro). Students are the ideal tenants, they are short term and do not criticise the gentrification and increase in rent they personify.

On top of this, the British government abolished its 9,000 pounds tuition fee cap last summer, and is currently planning massive revisions to maintenance grants in favour of loans. But the debt of students is increasing even in places where the fees are not quite as high — like France. In early winter the French people’s banks announced that the average sum being borrowed by students has grown by 1,000 euros this year, from 9,000 to 10,000 euros. In addition to low interest rates, there are services being offered to attract students as future clients. In Umbria, the University of Perugia has released a credit card —the ‘Genius Card’— and the partner bank, UniCredit, has promised to install ATMs on the university campus.

image: Bucerius School of EconomicsIn the cases where there can be no market, it is simulated. About 30 percent of university income in Germany is generated through so-called third-party funding, whilst public research receives over 60 percent. A fifth of this comes from private hands. To protect client’s interests, cooperation contracts and research aims often stay secret, and to avoid their duty of transparency to the public departments for industry relations are often outsourced. According to the sociologist Michael Hartmann, third-party funding has a double effect. The power of the private sector in academia grows, and it overshadows the scientific interests and career prospects of the next generation of researchers and professors.

Similarly the research funding of the European Union is strongly focused on university-business cooperations. The strategy paper ET 2020 defines the education as a “growth friendly sector” with the purpose of ensuring “sustainable economic prosperity.” Dozens of forums for training and network-building with companies and industry were organised by the European Commission in 2015, with a considerable chunk of the annual ten billion EU research fund, Horizon 2020, tied to private cofounding and cooperation with industry.

Relatively unnoticed by the public, a programme for master’s degree loans has been launched in Brussels. As of now, 200,000 Erasmus students can borrow up to 18,000 euros to study abroad, credit which is subsidised by the European Investment Fund. This way not only is a mentality to study on the back of debts reinforced by the EU, but also the concept of transnational mobility is strengthened.

Despite the possible advantages, the damages caused by this mobility could fill an entire page: 5,000 medical practitioners leaving Romania in 2014 alone, or the weekly headlines of the migration of graduates from Southern and Eastern Europe to economical centres being just a few examples. This brain drain effect can also happen on a national scale: in the south of Italy, universities are losing students in favour of the industrialised north. The region Reggio Calabria has lost 40 percent of its students in the past four years, a process, which is deepening the social divide between the south and north ever further.

      indebted students,
    precarious working contracts,
    growing dependency on banks...


Concentration in the tertiary sector is a further symptom of its deregulation. Since 2000, more than 100 universities across Europe have merged, and there are many uncounted cooperations or so-called strategic alliances, like that amongst the three Rheine-Main universities, founded in December of last year.

image: MicrosoftShortly before Christmas, Swiss universities prolonged their Microsoft licenses for a further four years. In the past, there had been criticism that open source software could save public money but not this year. The market for education technology booms with European higher education bodies alone spending up to 30 billion euros in 2015. Keen on keeping it this way, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, announced in January that his company will donate cloud based software worth one billion dollars ‘for free’ to universities and non-profit organisations.

At the same time, free online courses called MOOCs are becoming a global industry. An EU study showed that four out of ten European universities offer MOOCs or plan to do so. The sector is growing at an impressive 36 percent per annum, the market research company, M&M, estimates. But the market is still anarchic; in Austria universities are fighting to prohibit sound and video recordings in lectures, as more and more students take these recordings instead of writing their notes and then share them online.

Yes, the Berlin Wall between education and economy has fallen. University administrations structured like corporations, indebted students, precarious working contracts in universities and research across Europe, growing dependency on banks, private investors, technology service providers, brain drain of poorer areas in favour of richer ones, raises in student rents — these are a few aspects of higher education business in the 21st century.

An anonymous academic recently complained in the Guardian that his students treat him as a service provider, seeing themselves as his clients. They see the obligation of attending lectures and bad marks on their exams as damage to their ‘educational investment.’ It is becoming less fun to teach: the universities of the isles, once the best in the world, have lowered the access barriers and the quality of their education is decreasing.


By ESNA correspondent Isidor Grim 

Erasmus below the surface

With almost four million students from 33 countries mobilised since its inception in 1987, it is easy to see the Erasmus programme as a shining manifestation of the European Vision of opening borders, bringing people together and facilitating intercultural dialogue across the European community.

image: WORK|OUT


Indeed, the world-famous exchange programme, where students from any European Union member-state can spend between three months and a year in another European country of their choice, would likely be the first thing cited by most people if asked to state a concrete success of the European Union. The blistering pace of its increase shows no signs of slowing down, with more students taking part every year, and in many ways it is an aspect of modern-day Europe that many from younger generations could not imagine living without.

In a decade where doubt and instability hover like dark clouds over many of Europe’s nations, the scheme is more ambitious than ever; the Erasmus+ upgrade hopes to provide grants to 4 million new students by 2020. However the international mobilisation of millions of young people isn’t always as successful as one might be led to believe. The scheme is spoken of overwhelmingly favourably in the press, and any negative experiences are commonly put down to bad luck. But it is not without its faults. Few commentators are willing to remove their rose-tinted glasses and peel away the polished exterior to examine what lies underneath.

The constant influx of young, foreign and disposable bodies has not gone un-noticed by people looking to exploit. The short-term nature of Erasmus stays and students’ desperation for experience lends itself to a systematic lowering of standards; students searching for work placements and housing for the duration of their stay are willing to settle for standards far below what they would, or should, be getting. And waiting in the wings are countless businesses ready to pick the low-hanging fruit.

Once having made the jump to their new host city, students inevitably need a place to live and this has given way to a sinister market. Students looking for the perfect Wohngemeinschaft, or ‘flat share’, in Berlin, or balconied apartment in Valencia, must manoeuvre their way through a mine-field of scammers to eventually find somewhere to call home. And those dreaming of an edgy international pad as their base are often left bitterly disappointed, arriving to find themselves holed up in more Holloway Prison than holiday paradise. Landlords looking to make a quick buck from students’ accommodation compromises charge exorbitantly high rent for sub-standard apartments, often without a contract. In Italy, this wide-spread phenomenon is called affitti in nero - literally, ‘black rentals’ - and has had disastrous consequences, such as in 2007 when a young student died in her flat in Bologna from carbon-monoxide inhalation. Elsewhere, naïve flat-hunters fall into the traps of fake landlords who prey on foreigners. Tammy McNeilly, a student at Newcastle University, told of her nightmare struggle to find accommodation in Granada. She unwittingly moved into a flat share and one night came home to find her belongings and flat-mates gone. “Erasmus students are targeted because they basically have their whole lives with them - money, technology, passports etc. When they saw someone like me arrive with two big cases filled to the brim… they get a bit nosy.”

Another area which has seen exploitation of Erasmus students is internships. Among undergraduates there exists a quiet panic when it comes to work experience. Someone might be an A-grade student in the classroom, but have little or no experience in the labour market, and this awkward awareness manifests itself in a desperation for anything which might look good on a CV. The Erasmus programme offers work-hungry students the opportunity to realise a work placement, and recent figures show that this trend is increasing, with 21% of mobile students receiving grants whilst working in the 2012/13 period. While Erasmus funding is decided in Brussels, intern-employment laws differ from country to country and so too do payment regulations. Technically still full-time students, undergraduates fall into the ‘trainee’ category and as such, often receive little or no monetary reimbursement, despite performing all the roles of a full time employee. For businesses looking to save on labour costs, this opportunity is too good to be true. One UK based recruitment company, Placement UK, even offers student interns as “a unique, flexible and quite unbeatable solution to your staffing requirements”. But with the average Erasmus grant standing at around €272 per month, students are often left to cover rent and living costs themselves. Eager to embellish their CVs and notably less picky than their graduate counterparts, Erasmus students are, in short, easy targets for businesses looking to capitalise on young minds.

Perhaps the most prohibitive aspect for students doing an exchange abroad are the financial costs incurred. This is of course what brings about the necessity for scholarships and grants such as the Erasmus programme. However since they are still left to cover costs in this way even with a grant, it remains a barrier to success. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) survey from 2014 not only found that more than 57% of non-mobile students consider financial issues the biggest obstacle, but, even more pertinently, that 76% of non-mobile students would consider studying abroad if they were guaranteed an income. So what we see here is a conflict between the eagerness of students to complete a period studying or working abroad to boost their prospects in an ever more competitive and international labour market, and the restrictive but necessary costs involved in doing so. While the monthly Erasmus grant is enough to have mobilised millions of students, perhaps the fact that it is not enough to cover all living costs is keeping many more at home. And although the money that the European Commission invests in Erasmus is growing year on year, the number of students participating is rising vastly too. So when one looks beyond the billions, is becomes apparent that in fact over the last decade, spending per student has stagnated, and even fallen. Historically, Erasmus funding is far from safe; in October 2012 an emergency budget was drafted in Brussels, demanding contributions from member states to plug a €9 billion shortfall and safeguard the programme.

The Erasmus scheme’s central ideology of bringing students from all corners of the continent together, to create a generation with a European identity, is heavily emphasised by the press and the European community alike. And it is easy to become caught up in figures of millions of participants and billions of euros, which would seem to corroborate the success of this claim. However, if one examines just a little more closely the demographics represented by the programme, it becomes clear that the scheme leaves a lot to be desired with regards to its inclusivity. Firstly, it is striking that participation is heavily dominated by students from the major Western European powers. Of the 268,143 students who took part in the academic year 2012/13, 135,256 came from Germany, Spain, Italy or France alone, a figure greater than half. Those benefitting most from the ‘Erasmus experience’ are those who already enjoy the privilege of coming from a leading European nation. With respect to equal access and opportunities, something which one would assume would be central to the Erasmus scheme given its aforementioned remit, a much more worrying figure can be found. Students with special needs are spectacularly underrepresented among the participants. 2012/13 saw the highest ever proportion, and yet they only amounted to a paltry 388 students. In other words, a mere 0.14% of participating students. In the vein of its rhetoric of inclusion, surely it is clear that a lot more needs to be done by the Erasmus programme to improve its equal access credentials.

Taking part in the Erasmus scheme as an exchange student promises to vastly improve future prospects. The ESN suggests that it will provide “better chances while looking for a job in the future” and that “life won’t be the same after Erasmus”. The manifold advantages of studying abroad are widely accepted, but to make them concrete in an academic sense, it is essential that a system is in place whereby the studies embarked upon in another city are at the very least recognised after all the effort put in. ESN also acknowledges the necessity of this, stating that “one of the basic rights each exchange student has is the full recognition of courses passed successfully abroad by the home university”. Why then, according to no other than ESN’s own statistics, did 9% of students who did a full degree abroad with the Erasmus scheme report recognition problems in 2014? Credit harmonisation and recognition is a problem that has come to blight Erasmus. Italian MEP Lara Comi describes in The Parliament Magazine how, paradoxically, “the ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) has caused, and still involves, some issues. Indeed, a system originally created to facilitate student mobility within Europe has sometimes hindered it.” Discrepancies between the credit value of some disciplines and the work they require, exams requiring repetition on return because they are not recognised by the home institution, the variation in rating scales between countries, and the general confusion caused by all of this, have combined to make harmonisation (or rather the lack thereof) a major complication and deterrent for prospective participants in Erasmus.

The Erasmus programme affords countless advantages to the European community and its students, and its many positives cannot be denied or ignored. For that reason it is understandable that people are reluctant to criticise it, perhaps for fear of seeming ungrateful of its indisputable generosity. Nevertheless, it would be counter-productive for the scheme to rest on its laurels. A healthy measure of self-criticism is necessary for the improvement that would see it reach its maximum potential. Despite undoubtedly being a good thing for Europe, we should not be so easily satisfied with it. An honest evaluation and acceptance of its various faults, the inevitable by-product of a scheme representing so many billions of euros, would be a progressive way forward. Difficult questions need to be asked.

Adam Smith & Liam Innis
for ESNA European Higher Education News
Friday, 29 May 2015 


England losing out on international students


England’s international student market is flagging, with applications decreasing for the first time in thirty years. Language tests, visas, fees and a tidal wave of negative publicity are some of the reasons for creating an unwelcome atmosphere.

source: HESA

Figures published earlier this year revealed that the number of international students at English universities has fallen for the first time in nearly thirty years. For the 2012/13 academic year, over four thousand fewer students from outside the UK entered its universities. One of the main sectors to see a significant drop was that of EU students, with student numbers dropping my 24%.

International students play a vital role in the running of universities, from the financial backing to the broader student experience. It is estimated that around 30% of university funding comes from international students themselves, meaning they are a lifeline for the continued survival of universities. Yet there is much more to the international student than their wallet. A British Council survey found that over half of UK students think it’s important to integrate with international students, but 70% of those from abroad want to integrate with their domestic colleagues. This area of integration enhances student life, as Professor Rebecca Hughes of the British Council puts it: “International students are a key pa
image: British Councilrt of the UK’s understanding of the world and how the world now – and in the future, will understand the UK.”

 So with the international sector seemingly so valuable to university life and culture, why is England having trouble to attract students from overseas? There are a number of factors to be considered here, such as English language qualifications, visa issues and fees, all of which have had far too much media exposure for the higher education field’s liking.

One of the big stories to hit the headlines has been the involvement of the Home Office in higher education affairs. The recent, well-p
ublicised story of the University of Bedfordshire has greatly harmed England’s international reputation. The Luton-based University was prevented from issuing acceptance letters to international students, due to a Home Office inquiry into the legitimacy of their English language tests. This came at the same time as 57 private colleges lost their Highly Trusted Sponsor status, meaning they were also unable to recruit from overseas. Vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, unaffected by these decisions, Edward Acton said “the Home Office’s handling has needlessly damaged UK universities, a vital national interest.” Bedfordshire has since received clearance from UK Visa and Immigration to resume operations, but the affair has dampened trust in and the reputation of UK higher education abroad.

Visa regulations are an important factor to consider when looking into the decrease in the attraction of English higher education. Prime Minister David Cameron announced last month “a further step to make sure colleges do proper checks on students: if 10% of those they recruit are refused visas, they will lose their licence.” This new legislation will come into place in November 2014, with the current necessary rate to keep a licence at 20%. This means that if visas are denied to more than one in ten applicants, universities will lose their ability to recruit international students. Reacting to this, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Nick Hillman said “it is bound to encourage the idea that the UK does not welcome international students yet further.” Yet Senior Higher Education Policy Adviser to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) David Heron urges that more research needs to be done into this area, and that visas are only one of a number of factors affecting applicants’ decisions.

Fees are a huge story that have greatly affected the UK higher education market. With domestic and EU students set to be charged up to £9,000 per year of study as of the 2012-13 academic year, EU full-time undergraduate students coming to England have dropped by 24%. This drastic decrease contrasts the rate of growth of previous years, with overall EU full-time undergraduates falling from 5 to 4% of the total student population in this area since 2005. This in spite of the fact that the proportion of international students from outside the EU has grown from 8 to 13% in the same period, regardless of the recent annual decrease. EU students simply opt to either stay at home or go to another much cheaper European country, as fees in many other EU nations are much lower than in the UK. At the same time the offer of courses in the English language on the continent are growing day by day.

So what is the future for international education? The international market is an absolute necessity to the higher education system in England, with 61% of those studying full-time taught master programmes from outside the EU. With such a vast level of funding dependent upon the arrival of international students, universities cannot afford to lose this level of income: total international student fees are expected to be worth over £3.5 billion in 2015. The UK has several schemes to encourage the influx of international students. One example is the Brazilian Science Without Borders programme, with an agreement to bring 10,000 students from Brazil to the UK over the next four years. China is another increasing market, particularly in the post-graduate masters sector, but this is true for many big higher education nations
image: UUK. Yet with English courses often very short, international recruiters have to work hard to secure the constant replenishment of the cohort.

Whilst the
recent downturn in international student recruitment may indicate a drop in the attraction of the UK to students abroad, Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge believes that “international recruitment figures in the UK over the last few years have not done justice either to the global success of the UK’s universities, or the sector’s ability to tap into this substantial growth market.” Heron from HEFCE also believes early indications from 2013 show a levelling off rather than a downturn in international recruitment. But from students themselves there is still a level of concern, as former National Union of Students international students’ officer Daniel Stevens puts it: “These new figures are hardly surprising and confirm what we have been saying all along. Many international students feel unwelcome in the UK.”

Andrew Cotterill
for ESNA European Higher Education News
Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Free trade of higher education in Europe

The Euro-American free trade agreement TTIP from an education policy perspective



auf Deutsch

Societies have nothing to gain on either side of the ocean from the transatlantic free trade agreement TTIP. As part of German investigative TV programme “Monitor” in May, the European trade representative Karel De Gucht was confronted with facts from an EU study, which reveals that both his promises and those of Angela Merkel of increased jobs and economic growth are simply not true. The North American free trade agreement NAFTA has been in force between the United States, Canada and Mexico since 1994. It was greatly praised in this same manner at the time of implementation, yet resulted in the loss of over a million jobs and brought about a decrease in salary for millions of workers in the US.

The danger that the agreement will be ratified without public consultation and proper debate in the European Parliament has sparked a pan-European civil society movement. Just as with the controversial anti-piracy agreement ACTA, which was prevented by huge public opposition, civil groups are hoping that parties, governments and MEPs will take a stand on TTIP.

Even the education sector is being discussed, as no stone is left unturned. And not just as part of TTIP, but also as part of a bigger free trade agreement called TiSA, which is currently being negotiated behind closed doors. 50 countries representing 68.2 percent of world trade in services are taking part in the TiSA talks, who have given themselves the ominous title of “Really Good Friends of Services.” The TiSA negotiations follow the corporate agenda of using “trade” agreements to make privatisation non-reversible, and to promote mergers and acquisitions and deregulation, in order to ensure greater corporate control and profit making of national economies and the global economy.


Much action has already been taken to combat the issue. A European petition is being prepared in response to the fears that this could have disastrous effects on education in Europe. In an open letter, the European education union has requested governments of their respective countries to exclude education completely from the trade agreements. In mid-May, the German Confederation of Trade Unions called for the TTIP negotiations to be called off. Shortly before the European election, the lead German candidates for the European parliament were presented with a petition of 715,000 signatures against TTIP and CETA. The petition was compiled by a group comprising of over 50 non-governmental organisations.


The European-Canadian agreement called CETA which has not been concluded yet, contains the so-called “ratchet clause”, which means that governments won’t be able to nationalise previously privatised sectors. In reality this would mean that if a government decides to completely or partially liberalise the education sector, this would then become binding in the eyes of the agreement. The room for manoeuvre for following governments would be greatly reduced and result in high compensation costs. “This results in an unacceptable restriction on democracy. Rules on trade should in no way limit the possibilities for governments or public authorities to ensure a high quality of state education,” according to the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).


Image: CAUTDavid Robinson, senior advisor to the education union umbrella organisation Education International, spoke on this issue at a higher education conference in Ireland. He warned of a further privatisation and commercialisation of education, if TTIP allowed private American companies access to the European sector. He refers to an official investigation into the dishonest practices of the private education providers, which is currently on the lookout for new markets. American private career colleges have a drop-out rate of 64 percent and provide a “substandard quality education”. 22 percent of their expenditure goes on marketing and only 17 percent on instruction. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.


The private education industry in the US is rotten to the core: so rotten that portfolio manager Steve Eisman has compared it to the subprime mortgage industry in the US. The sector has grown between five and ten times in size since 2000. In 2009, the Apollo Group alone was earning 883 million dollars more than in the previous year. The private sector receives a quarter of state funding for education, although it is only responsible for the education of a tenth of the nation’s students. And what a return they got on the investment! Only 9 percent of revenue flows into education itself, according to Eisman. Huge lobbying in Washington and at a regional level has watered down the amount of control and accreditation in the sector. So much so that more and more families are plagued by huge debts and many students end up with simply worthless qualifications. Eisman warns that without immediate regulation, a new student generation could end up with additional debts of over 330 billion dollars in the next ten years. The current student loan debt stands at 1.2 trillion dollars, which is greater than that of all American credit card users.


Meanwhile the American Congress has launched an investigation into for-profit higher education institutions. The accusations made against the institutions resulted in the private career colleges bringing Congress to court 2011 and 2012. A lawsuit against the attempts of the Obama government to introduce new rules and protection measures was successful in July 2012. According to the British education union UCU, the British education sector is a strategic target for some American companies, such as the recently acquired private school BBP in London by the Apollo Group.


An important market in which American companies are ahead of their international competitors is that of online education, with a charitable side known as MOOCs or massive open online courses. The neoliberal think-tank Cato Institute argues that “experience in other industries suggests that one response to online education is likely to be calls for ‘protection’ from new foreign competitors. And given the extensive regulation and governmental role in the education sector, it may be relatively easy for governments to interfere with foreign online universities under the guise of normal regulation. ... Governments should resist protectionist demands.” The revenues of the online education market in the US are forecast to grow 7.7 percent per year from 2012 to 2015 – reaching $78 billion.


image: ATTAC FranceFrédéric Viale of Attac France suggests that the free trade agreement is above all benefiting the uneconomic, parasitic elements of the markets. The main aim of these markets is to achieve access to public funding, which has so far been denied to them due to quality tests and social quotas. “It would be the beginning of the complete privatisation of the higher education sector,” Viale told ESNA, “if the state was required to fund American or Canadian private companies in exactly the same way as they fund their home institutions.”

It would nevertheless be wrong, to place the blame solely on the US. Viale emphasises that the EU has been working on the privatisation of services since the middle of the 1980s. The carve-out of the audio-visual sector from the TTIP negotiations last year was predominantly pushed through by the French and against opposition from Germany, the UK and the EU itself. In a consultation paper from January the EU asked its member states how far they would be willing to liberalise “adult and other education”. The US has “signalled interest in this area.” “The consultation itself has already shown that the EU is not removing the education sector from negotiations. On the contrary, they want to include it as part of TTIP and want to deregulate it further,” as Viale says.

As proof, the EU has recently enacted a lawsuit for breach of contract against Slovenia, because its higher education law infringes upon the European Services Directive. According to Klemen Miklavič, an education policy researcher at the University of Ljubjana, the decision was triggered when a British education provider wanted to open a branch in Slovenia, but the qualifications were not recognised by the authorities. The education directorship of the EU Commission justified their actions against Slovenia, as a means of creating a transnational education market in Europe, causing Slovenian concerns for national independency.

image: H-AlterThe Slovenian Students Union ISKRA warns that the imminent lawsuit of the European courts against Slovenia could become “a dangerous precedent” with the introduction of TTIP. “I see an identical discourse surrounding the statement of EU officials regarding TTIP, as was the case during the negotiations on the services directive. According to them, TTIP does not cover services of general interest, but neither did the services directive. Yet we now have a case where apparently it does. The Slovenian case shows in practice that trade principles prevail,” Miklavič told euractiv. The terms of the ISDS clause have led to international lawsuits costing governments millions at the hands of private companies. Should the ISDS clause find its way into the TTIP or TiSA agreements, states would be under the threat of litigation based on any attempts to implement regulations in the future. These could range from the introduction of equal opportunities for disadvantaged groups to a minimum wage or even quality standards.

Non-governmental organisations are therefore not only demanding simply a carve-out for the education sector from negotiations but for a full-scale abandonment of negotiations. Most universities, higher education associations and research organisations have already been peering over their shoulders for some time. It’s high time they step into the debate on the protection of the publically funded sector, to protect their very own life source.

Tino Brömme
for ESNA European Higher Education News
Wednesday, 15 June 2014

Image: CeBIT

Jimmy Wales speaking at CeBIT, IT fair Hannover, 14 March 2014

Jimmy Wales speaks as a guest at CeBIT 2014 in Hannover, the world’s biggest IT fair, on everything from Snowden to Pokémon. Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, envisions a world where everyone has free access to all human knowledge. And since Wikipedia’s founding 13 years ago, there are 30 million articles across 285 languages.

With this view in mind, it’s no wonder that Wales speaks so candidly about censorship, using the example of China, where Wikipedia was banned for three years. It’s clear he believes censorship to be a violation of human rights. Despite having to fight censorship, Wales proudly points out that, as of now, Wikipedia gets 532 million unique visitors per month, which in turn brings a lot of social responsibility. He is currently working on Wikipedia Zero, a project that hopes to get people free access to Wikipedia on mobile devices, and with no data charges. So far, this is possible for 500 million people. Speaking of mobiles, the recent US tracking scandals give Wales an opportunity to discuss the importance of data security. When the topic of Edward Snowden is brought up, Wales is quick to proclaim him a hero rather than a criminal. Finally, after prompting from the interviewer, some of the issues that surround Wikipedia are addressed, such as academic citing, propaganda tools and the criteria for entries.

image: KTH
Partnerships for Innovation and Socio-Economic Impact: The Entrepreneurial University
Report on the University-Business Forum, Stockholm, 18-20 March 2014



stadshus (c) esnaIt started with a guided tour in Stockholm’s city hall. Every year, great scientists and writers are crowned and celebrated in this massive castle on a rock, at the Nobel Prize banquet. The neo-romantic architecture seems to say yes, Swedes do consider their commitment to highest social and educational standards a tradition worthy of preservation. And the archaic lining of the Council Chamber, seat of the municipal parliament, does not appear to be a contradiction, nor an impediment to the forward-looking policies of this resourceful Nordic society.


These contrasting impressions were confirmed by the beauty of the university where the conference ‘Partnerships for Innovation and Socio-Economic Impact: The Entrepreneurial University’, organised by the European Commission in partnership with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, took place. In KTH’s ascending and interconnected buildings, students and scholars have plenty of space to meet and communicate. The same beauty of intelligence was visible during the study visit to Kista Science City where university, research and industry converge in the EIT ICT Lab.


The conference itself was a splendid showcase for Nordic and European university modernisation in a dense series of presentations. The programme, held and followed by renowned experts from Europe and the United States – research directors, rectors, civil servants, managers – allowed the comparison of world-leading examples for the state of art in knowledge creation and transfer, including the City of Espoo, MINATEC in Grenoble, the ‘Brainport’ of Eindhoven, and Barcelona, iCapital of Europe. European universities engaged in entrepreneurial education, such as Aalto University, KTH Stockholm, TU München, and Aalborg University, sent their ambassadors to encounter the demand side of their services: Ericsson, Nokia, Scania, Philips, BMW, Outotec.


The complex interaction between education, research and industry was outlined by representatives of the involved parties: the European Union, national societies, cities and regions, universities and academies, companies and corporations.


jan truszczynski (c) esnaJan Truszczyński, head of the EU directorate for education and culture, referred to the two million vacancies in the ICT sector and the Commission’s commitment to support student entrepreneurs and ‘knowledge alliances’ between universities and businesses through Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020.


Peter Honeth, state secretary at the Swedish education ministry, advocated the independence of universities whose third mission, besides education and research, he considers “making knowledge useful”. This mission, he said, should be “broader than entrepreneurship” and pursued with a long-term perspective if universities don’t want to lose their importance.


The call for ever-shorter development and innovation cycles, imposed by fierce global competition, emerged several times during the conference. So did the contention of sustainable ‘ecosystems of innovation’ as the modern solution to conciliate regional development and economic growth. The conference highlighted the crucial role of universities in this process, not only as polyedric educators who face a demanding new generation and the challenge of lifelong learning, nor only as modernisers of learning and research environments that lead to innovation, but also as multifunctional mediators in a grid of wide-ranging structures and conflicting interests. Various speakers brought up central issues for today’s universities: changing ways of information transmission, increased staff and student mobility, public funding cuts, interdisciplinarity and skills-orientation.


Linnar Viik (c) esnaIn a discussion on day two, Skype co-founder Linnar Viik and venture capitalist Axel Polack expanded into larger horizons, beyond the university-industry perspective. Mr Viik offered a critical view on the so-called ‘knowledge triangle’. In his opinion, the model of an isosceles triangular relation between universities, research centres and businesses fails to reflect the real role of companies, especially innovative start-ups, in their relation towards academe and science. Mr Polack noted that the funding problems of start-up companies – which are often innovative university spin-offs – were only marginally mentioned during the conference. This is a deplorable fact, he said, since venture capital for ICT start-ups is nearly unavailable in Europe, unlike in the United States, meaning that many promising inventors, kick-started with local know-how and funding, leave to the United States.


‘The Entrepreneurial University’ was the subtitle of this conference in the sixth year of EU-funded university-business forums. It emerged the extent to which higher education institutions have already changed, and that the ‘entrepreneurial’ mentality has long exceeded its original neo-liberal connotation. How? By creating new learning environments, mitigating intercultural and social woes caused by mobility, creating structures across borders, mobilising capital and exchange, offering services and consultancy for companies and the public sector, and in may other ways. Obviously, European universities are already operating at the forefront of a larger societal transformation process.


Impressive examples of such activities included: the EIT ICT Lab with partner universities, research centres and companies in eight countries; the Innovation Immersion Program from Illinois (IIP) which enhances collaboration between students and global technology clusters through international consulting projects; the OpenLab, a research and educational collaboration between four Swedish universities where students from different disciplines take on challenges of the City and the County of Stockholm. IIP director Robert Valli underlined his conviction that being entrepreneurial is not a national quality, but is in fact cultural and can be taught.

Tino Brömme
for ESNA European Higher Education News