Free Colleges: More Students, Less Quality

„Bernie Sanders is wrong.“ It’s a phrase that we have heard so often over the last few months, often enough at least to even get a book with the title. That is no surprise considering how the candidate for the Democratic Party, who at the moment polls in second place behind Hillary Clinton, keeps uttering false facts, keeps promising freebies and keeps promoting the holy „democratic socialism“.

In an op-ed on October 22 for the Washington Post, Mr Sanders again got confused. This time he took a stance for free colleges and used some countries – including Germany, as examples of how great this system would work:

„In Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Mexico, public colleges and universities remain tuition-free. They’re free throughout Germany, too, and not just for Germans or Europeans but for international citizens as well. That’s why every year, more than 4,600 students leave the United States and enroll in German universities. For a token fee of about $200 per year, an American can earn a degree in math or engineering from one of the premier universities in Europe. Governments in these countries understand what an important investment they are making, not just in the individuals who are able to acquire knowledge and skills but for the societies these students will serve as teachers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs and more.“

As a German who currently goes to universities in this country I couldn’t resist to write something about this.

First of all, it is true, here in Germany you can study (basically) for free. I for example only have to pay a fee of about 120 Euros each semester for a bus ticket. And it is true as well that this is not limited to German citizens only. Everyone can visit a college, no matter if he or she – or the parents for that matter, have ever paid into the system.

However, this has consequences: Erich Barke from took a closer look at the budget of a university in Germany, compared to one in the US. For that, he selected the Leibniz University in Hannover and the University of Texas at Austin – both of them are good universities, but not elite, compared to other colleges in the respective country. Even so, the differences in quality are enormous:

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Remember, this are two solid universities, so Barke also compared the Leibnitz University with two of the better institutions in the world (which are both located in countries with tuitions):

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Compared to the MIT and Stanford it’s even worse.

As you can see, the Leibnitz University has less funds per student and less staff and at the same time is financed nearly entirely by the government.

There’s no doubt that this miserable situation hurts the German universities. Actually, it’s pretty much demonstrable. Let me tell you two short anecdotes:

Just a few years ago, at the time I was still deciding which course I should choose, I visited an information event at a university in Munich. It was a presentation on civil engineering and the professor who introduced us to this course showed us the structure of it, the content etc. At one point he said that because tuitions have been cut (in Bavaria this happened only in 2013, so quite late), his faculty already has problems to finance research programs.

Since my first semester I have experienced this as well: To put it simply, there is not enough … enough of everything. There are not enough rooms for everyone, there are not enough employees, which leads to long waiting periods for students if there are problems or other requests, and there are not enough professors to teach (or they are totally stressed out). It’s an acute situation in which everyone is overextended and irritated.

It’s easy to see this drop in quality in global university rankings as well. Let’s take a look at the top five colleges from the US and Germany respectively in the most important lists and where they rank:

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Sources: QS 15-16:; Times Higher Education 15-16:!/page/0/length/25; ARWU 15:; CWUR 15:; US News:

In the CWUR 2015 ranking, which lists the top 1,000 colleges on this planet, a total of 55 German universities are mentioned – compared to 229 for the United States.

At last, you can recognize a clear trend similar to the one in the United States: Because of the lower costs and easier access to these institutions there are more and more students and because of that, a Bachelor’s degree possibly won’t be enough soon. In 2009, the number of students passed the amount of apprentices, and it’s getting more extreme as the years pass by, as you can see in this chart (blue are the number of apprentices, red the students, the numbers are in millions):


This are just some of the consequences of a free college system as Bernie Sanders proposes it, a system in which, as Mr Sanders says, „governments […] understand what an important investment they are making, not just in the individuals who are able to acquire knowledge and skills but for the societies these students will serve as teachers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs and more.“

At the end of the day the result will be the following: More students, less job opportunities (or higher job requirements), less money for the universities and less quality. You can certainly #FeelTheBern in Germany already.