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Do German universities need more modern infrastructure?

German universities
Some German universities still feature tired, old facades. Source: Shutterstock

Germany is a popular study abroad destination for international students, with nearly 400,000 foreign students earning a degree in the country. One of the country’s major appeals is its affordability – students pay little to no tuition, depending on the institution.

However, many of Germany’s top universities are also some of the nation’s oldest, and with them often comes an outdated facade, a potential drawback or common gripe for some students.

One report by DW said that “German universities are trying to make it on the world stage as part of a federal-funded ‘excellence initiative’”, but a lack of investment in infrastructure may be holding them back from achieving the coveted elite status.

Further in the article, Lisa Stroetmann, a Master’s in Political Science student at the University of Bonn, was quoted, saying: “Every room I know in the main building is old-fashioned and [impractical]. It’s really not good enough.”

Another student who did not want to be named said: “The rooms really aren’t properly equipped,” adding that the seminar rooms are often not large enough for the number of students because they assume after the first week that people will stop showing up.

Tired, old facades?

German universities

German universities are popular among international students, but some of their older institutions could benefit from refreshed infrastructure. Source: Shutterstock

Bonn was founded in 1818, but was rebuilt in the 1950s after extensive bomb damage from World War II. 

A university spokesperson, Andreas Archut, said it is in desperate need of renovation, adding that cracks run along the walls and mould and moss are growing in corners. They have also recently discovered asbestos in the main building, and must adhere to strict regulations for building work.

“You’re not even allowed to hammer a nail in the wall without special precaution procedures,” said Archut.

Asbestos was once a popular building material in the past but is now considered toxic. It has since been banned as a construction material across countries, but many old buildings still contain asbestos.

A report by Stephensons claimed that their Freedom of Information (FOI) request to 106 universities in England revealed that 74 percent still have asbestos present in their buildings. Some Russell Group universities, such as the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford, are reportedly among them.

Risks of asbestos-related diseases include lung ailments and cancer.

DW said it is “beyond the university’s control to tear down or renovate these buildings. All the university buildings are owned by BLB (Bau- und Liegenschaftsbetrieb), a private company which rents the buildings to the university. This means that it is difficult for the university to instigate renovation projects.”

American lawyer, Andrew Hammel, who has taught at German universities, opined in the Quillette that the tuition-free system in the country has its disadvantages. 

“The first difference an American will notice is that most German universities look dingy and threadbare. Many were erected hastily in the 1960s and 1970s to house new students brought in by liberalising reforms, and these cheap, poorly maintained structures are notoriously ugly (a German magazine recently ran a feature on ‘German Universities Ranked by Ugliness’),” he wrote.

He added that most classrooms still feature rigid wooden or metal desks bolted in rows, while wireless coverage, library stocks, laboratory gear and classroom A/V equipment still lag behind the average American state university. 

“It’s still possible to arrive to give a lecture and find an overhead projector awaiting your transparencies. Professors’ salaries are much lower than in the US, and Germany’s problem with ‘adjunctification’ and precarious conditions for aspiring scholars (known by the German neologism Prekarisierung) is becoming as urgent as it is in the US,” he said.

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