Student demonstrators on march in Germany Protesters want more funds, less crowding at universities

November 28, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BONN, Germany -- Tens of thousands of students marched through central Bonn yesterday, blowing whistles and blasting trumpets in a demonstration that crowned weeks of protests and years of discontent over the under-financing and crowding of Germany's colleges and universities. Thousands more boycotted classes across the country.

The protests were the biggest displays of student anger in Germany in more than two decades. But while a previous generation's protests focused on such political themes as the American presence in Vietnam, the huge turnout yesterday reflected student annoyance at crowded lecture halls, libraries without books, long waits for access to computers and suggestions that tuition fees be introduced in Germany's state-financed universities similar to those in the United States.

Germany's 230 colleges and universities were intended to accommodate some 950,000 students, but over the last 20 years, the number of students has risen to 1.8 million, many of them spending much longer than is usual in the United States to complete their studies.

At the same time, spending reductions have cut teaching staff, leaving lecture halls bulging with students who say they sometimes wait for years to meet with professors. Yesterday, one protester, Barbara Mueller of Cologne, said some seminars were so crowded that she started standing in line for a seat at 4 a.m. "and I still didn't get a place."

The protests yesterday, after demonstrations and strikes by students in other cities in recent weeks, were the latest reflection of a broader crisis in Germany -- Europe's biggest economy -- as it struggles to pare a padded welfare state to meet the challenges of economic globalization and European plans for a single currency based on fiscal restraint.

The students, from 40 universities, converged on Bonn in a cavalcade of buses and four special trains. One small group bicycled 400 miles from Berlin.

There were as many as 40,000 protesters, according to estimates by the police and organizers of the march. Students at 50 universities and colleges boycotted classes yesterday in support of the protest.

Many carried banners urging the government to spend money on higher education rather than on a projected European warplane, known as the Eurofighter, for which Germany has committed $13 billion. "For a billion marks, 6.5 Eurofighters or 6,481 smart students -- which do we need more in the future?" a banner said.

Student leaders maintain that universities are underfinanced by as much as $3 billion a year.

The complaints have drawn broad support from professors, lecturers and politicians. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who said he sympathized with the students, blamed mismanagement by Germany's 16 federal states, most of which are run by the opposition Social Democrats, for the crisis -- an assertion denied by Social Democrat leader Oskar Lafontaine.

The protests also reflect a much broader debate about higher education in Germany, which once prided itself on providing some of the best schooling in Europe.

Business leaders have complained that the country's universities not produce a high level of technical education, at a time of increasing competition in a world dominated by technology.

State politicians have complained, too, that one cause of crowding is that German students linger too long at universities. It is not uncommon to find students in their late 20s or early 30s, particularly in law and medical programs.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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