Free Public Higher Education – How It’s Done Elsewhere

An important article in “Inside Higher Ed” discusses how and why Germany is abandoning its experiment with charging tuition fees to college students. The state and federal governments are making up for lost revenue by increasing funding.

The German Education Union argues that higher education is a human right — a belief enshrined in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stipulates that “[h]igher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”  Like Germany, Austria has backtracked: tuition fees were first introduced in 2001 and abolished for most students in 2008.


Even college administrators opposing this change favor a model that is much more progressive than what we are familiar with:  the Australian model, in which students defer tuition payments by taking out income-contingent loans.  But they recognize the political reality:  “Right now, the German Rectors’ Conference sees the issue of tuition fees in Germany as — how should I put it — politically dead,” says Gordon Bölling, the head of the association’s North America section. “It’s a topic which at this moment you cannot raise because public opinion in Germany is dead-set against it.”

Let’s create that same political reality here!