Education vs. Training: A Contradiction or Productive Synergy?
• German Rectors' Conference (HRK)
• German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI)
Following welcome remarks by Dr. Joann Halpern, Director of the German Center for Research and Innovation, Prof. Ulrike Beisiegel, President of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, kicked off the evening by providing an overview of her institution, which was founded during the Enlightenment. Established in 1734, the university has a long tradition of liberal arts education and research and is one of Germany’s top-ranked universities. Home to 13 schools, approximately 27,000 students, and roughly 14,000 employees, the university today focuses in particular on promoting internationalization and interdisciplinary approaches in research and teaching. Unlike most German universities, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen was founded under public law, which gives it a high-level of autonomy, including the ability to appoint professors, act independently in financial and staff management decisions, and own real estate.
Prof. Beisiegel stressed that her university’s priority is not only employability, but also research-based teaching and providing students with a broad liberal arts education. The collaboration “Göttingen Campus” with two universities of applied sciences and eight non-university partners (i.e. one Leibniz institute, one Helmholtz center, five Max Planck institutes, and the Göttingen Academy of Sciences), enables this research-based teaching and is characteristic of only a few other German universities. Prof. Beisiegel then discussed the highly differentiated German higher education landscape, explaining how education and training are not contradictory entities, but rather form a productive synergy as they fulfill different yet equally important functions in society and the education system. Moreover, she addressed the future challenges facing many research universities, such as how to be more socially responsible by conducting research targeted at solving global problems without interfering with the freedom of research itself. She also stressed that the curricula of future education programs need to be improved by incorporating more aspects of internationalization and themes like diversity management, research integrity, and leadership skills. Furthermore, she noted that it is very important to allow students to transfer between the systems, i.e. to change from a university of applied sciences to a research university and vice versa. To provide this level of comprehensive, high quality education in the future, she stressed the importance of adopting new e-learning measures, collaborating with private enterprises, and providing students with adequate opportunities for personal development, growth, and creativity.
Prof. Philip G. Altbach, Director of the Center for International Higher Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, then provided an overview of the state of the liberal arts globally before addressing the significant challenges facing U.S. higher education at present. He explained how, on the one hand, the top-tier U.S. research universities and highly selective undergraduate colleges are “alive and doing well” in terms of quality, competitiveness, and in some cases, even finances. These top institutions continue to be strongly committed to liberal arts education and have traditionally “largely rejected” the focus on employability/skills training, according to Prof. Altbach. The majority of mid-range, four-year colleges and relatively unselective universities, however, have unclear missions and face considerable pressures related to financing, institutional missions, and employability prospects. Community colleges, on the other hand, are becoming an increasingly important part of the system, as national policy looks to “upgrade” job skills. But they too may be facing an increasingly complicated set of missions as these institutions seek to both provide education and foster employability.
Prof. Altbach then elaborated on other key challenges like the “defunding” of higher education in the U.S. by the states. Without exception, the proportion of support provided to public colleges and universities by the state governments has declined, in some cases by more than half. The University of Virginia, for example, has lost the largest amount of its state funding over the past 20 years and currently receives only seven percent of its budget from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Results of this “crisis” include massive tuition hikes as well as having to limit access and cut course offerings and faculty – all factors that make it more difficult for students to graduate on time. Prof. Altbach then discussed the “privatization of public higher education” and how this “defunding” has led to a decrease in the quality of education, a “debt crisis” for many students, and a large increase in federal government allocations to loan programs. Lastly, Prof. Altbach brought to light the crisis of non-completion and delayed completion of degrees due to the high costs of higher education: “The biggest problem of employability in this country is not completing a degree,” Prof. Altbach said. He concluded his talk by highlighting the continued importance of a university degree regardless of academic field for future career success over one’s lifetime.
Prof. Andreas Bertram, President of Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences, concluded the evening’s presentations by discussing changes in the German higher education system over the past decade as well as its key tasks and challenges in the future, such as ensuring adequate funding and enabling post-grad employability. According to Prof. Bertram, regardless of an economy’s wealth, financial resources still need to be used in an efficient, task-oriented manner to ensure high quality teaching and training. Whether this funding is public or private is irrelevant. He then transitioned to discussing the societal benefits of higher education by providing multiple theses of how a higher education institution – in particular a Fachhochschule or German University of Applied Science – can and should achieve these goals. First, securing a society’s ability to innovate should be at the heart of a higher education institution’s educational mandate. Innovation not only embraces the development of new products on the basis of scientific knowledge, but also the ability of society at-large and its organizations to adapt as quickly and successfully as possible to changing economic and social framework conditions. In Prof. Bertram’s view, academic training must be concentrated to a great extent on the ability of practitioners and those in the political environment to cope with adaption processes. With this in mind, the ability to conduct research must be extended at all academic stages (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.). Moreover, ensuring employability from the bachelor’s stage on is one of the central political demands of the Bologna process, he noted. Lastly, future success in a competitive economy will be characterized by all facets of academia not only teaching students the ability to conduct research, but also the ability to be innovative by applying scientific knowledge in professional settings. Prof. Bertram continued by noting how students at German Universities of Applied Sciences often have an easier transition to the professional world than students graduating from traditional universities. In the future, combining academic and pre-professional education will be a key challenge facing curricula at all levels of higher education. Prof. Bertram concluded his talk by re-emphasizing that: “As educators, we are obliged to unlock the full potential of our society and to maintain a high level of knowledge and education throughout careers, hence cultivating life-long learning in the truest sense.”