Germany often receives praise for having one of the best education systems in Europe and the world. There are many factors that make the German education system a model. Among these are free higher education, one of the most effective Vocational Education Tracks (VET), and a well-rounded basic education.
One of the reasons for the success of this system is the country’s public expenditure on education. UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report shows that the country spends 4.8% of its GDP and 10% of its government expenditure on education, which meets UNESCO’s 2030 framework for governments spending on education and Sustainable development Goal 4 of quality education for all. Paired with effective education programs, this ample financing leads to high quality, and accessible to all education. When looking at primary and secondary education, there are various policies that ensure that both access and quality aspects of education remain elevated. The first 9 years of basic education, for instance, are compulsory from the age of 6. Throughout this period, a system known as Tracking ensures that students are placed in schools that are matched to their academic abilities, which ensures that every student’s needs are being addressed.
Another element that reflects the German system’s high level of access and quality is its unique VET system. With a dual system that allows the students to learn in the classroom and on the job, the German VET system has shown to be one of the best internationally. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Germany ranks second in youth employment, a score that is often attributed to the country’s VET system.
The Price of free higher education
Though effective in many aspects, the German education system does not have it all figured out. This is mostly reflected in the country’s higher education system, where the issue of government expenditure on education comes back into question. Known to provide free higher education for both citizens and international students, the country has had difficulty in maintaining this almost too-good-to-be-true free higher-ed policy while ensuring that funding and quality are also maintained. As the university enrollment rate increases from the relatively low numbers, public universities have been experiencing larger student to teacher ratios, less learning resources for students, and others. Quartz explains that whereas the average student expense per student is $27,924, Germany’s declined to $16,895. In view of this issue, Germany’s seemingly sufficient government expenditure on education is no longer fitting the kind of standard Germany’s higher education system has maintained over the years. This issue puts in perspective that oftentimes, funding is what is at the center of the compromise between education access and quality.
The compromise between access and quality is mostly seen in the dilemma to maintain higher free for the increasing number or students enrolling and or introducing tuition to ensure a healthy student/teacher ratio and other measures of quality. Having grappled with the idea of re-introducing tuition fees in higher education, major pushback arose from the public and the country’s politicians, who have shown a united stance for a tuition-free higher education. Apart from adding higher-ed taxes to graduates, there has not been much progress in finding alternative solutions. With few other options other than to increasing government funding, many have deemed this option to be unsustainable. Government expenditure for higher education increased by a third between 2005 and 2016, adding up to more than $26 billion. This has been an effective way of financing selective funding programs for higher-ed institutions, which has effectively maintained the international ranking and performance of research institutions and other specific programs.
Although Germany meets and exceeds SDG 4, the financing issue it faces reminds us of the challenge faced by developing nations in meeting the goal of quality education for all. For many of these nations, lack of funding leads to poor infrastructure, poor teacher training, reduced access for the less privileged, and others. It reminds us that for SDG 4 to be met, funding through aid, investment and fiscal policies will have to be increased in addition to the right education policies being implemented.
There are various lessons to be learned from the German Education system. From the allocation of government funding to the various education policies, the country’s education system is exemplary in many ways. Nonetheless, it shows us that no system is perfect and that an ongoing search for better education policies is necessary.