The culture that is Germany

by on July 6, 2012 at 7:48 am in Education, Law | Permalink

Hard to believe, but ultimately not a surprise:

In the United States, many lament that it takes students too long to graduate. In Germany, the School of Economics and Management in Essen is suing Marcel Pohl, for $3,772 that the institution lost in tuition revenue when he finished a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 3 semesters, not the 11 that would have been expected, UPI reported. The university declined to comment. Pohl said, “When I got the lawsuit, I thought it couldn’t be true. Performance is supposed to be worth something.”

The link is here.  He went through the course material so quickly by divvying up the lectures with two friends of his, and sharing the resulting notes, thus attending only a fraction of the lectures the school was offering to him.  Here is a German language account, consider this gem of a passage:

“Sie sagen, sie bestellen jetzt eine Cola, und haben nur ein halbes Glas und sagen: Dann möchte ich auch nur ein halbes Glas zahlen. Das ist ja auch völlig in Ordnung. So, sie haben aber die ganze Cola nur furchtbar schnell ausgetrunken und sagen: Jetzt möchte ich nur die Hälfte zahlen. Das geht einfach nicht.”

Just imagine if he had had on-line options.

Silas Barta July 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

Here’s my attempt at translation:
***
Let’s say you order a cola, and only have half a glass and say, “so I’d also only like to pay for a half glass”. That’s also completely acceptable. But, say you instead drink the entire cola incredibly fast and say, “Now I’d only like to pay for half.” It doesn’t work like that.

Rahul July 6, 2012 at 8:15 am

The culture that is Gemany: He thinks it is completely acceptable to drink half a cola and not pay for the undrunk half.

I guess that’s why they ought to charge by Credit and not by Semester.

Silas Barta July 6, 2012 at 10:51 am

Yeah, I thought that was strange. Maybe it meant (implicitly) buying a half-sized glass and drinking all of it vs. buying a full-size glass and drinking it quickly.

I did as literal a translation of the glass/cola/half/drinking bit as I could.

Commentator July 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Does it not depend on the contract itself? Maybe the University is right. Also, he did learn 4 years worth of material by attending the University so should he not pay for the knowledge gained? He’s paying for the education and degree. It’s great that he’s 2 or 3 years younger so it was still a remarkable and worthwhile achievement graduating quickly.

Jim Ancona July 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Lots of contract arrangements might be reasonable, but any university that wants to charge for “knowledge gained” would have to consider the impact of not being able to charge extra for the slacker on the 6 year plan.

Richard July 6, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Bah! Where there’s a will there’s a way. Charge by the credit and impose “student fees” for each semester in which the student is registered. It’s win-win!

Chris R July 6, 2012 at 8:55 am

Hard as it is to believe, Germany is even more litigious than the United States. This goes for criminal law too.

Pshrnk July 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Rule of law has costs. Would you prefer less litigation and Greecian results?

Andreas Moser July 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

Do you have any basis for this thesis that German is more litigious than the US?
I have worked in both countries as a lawyer and doubt it. But if Germany has become more litigious, it’s only due to all the US lawyers’ series on TV. :P

TallDave July 6, 2012 at 9:08 am

Possibly apocryphal or outdated or both, but I recall reading a while back that it was routine for German students to spend ten years in college, more as a way to avoid employment than in furtherance of education.

affenkopf July 6, 2012 at 10:35 am

There’s a word for these people: Langzeitstudenten.
Germany recently changed from the old Diplom-syystem to Bachelor-/Master degrees. Not it’s much harder to spent decades at university without getting a degree.

Andreas Moser July 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

Yep, it used to be normal. You took your time, enjoyed life, studied around, also more than one subject if you were interested, did some exchange semesters in other countries. Made for a well-rounded education, which I don’t regret.

GW July 6, 2012 at 9:22 am

If Mr Pohl had had an online option, chances are that the degree would have
been payable only on a course-by-course basis, without the possibility of a semester flat-fee, which Mr Pohl had assumed that he had had.

TallDave, the extended student years of the past (a tradition going to medieval times) has been ended, effectively, with the Europe-wide Pisa reforms (introducing, among other things, a three year Bachelor’s degree; in the past the lowest degree offered was a Magister, Diploma (i.e. for Engineering) or State Exam (for law, teaching or government careers; incidentally, in this process, the highest traditional degree, the post doctoral Habilitation, has all but been eliminated.) Students who take more than the foreseen number of semesters to finish a degree must pay for the additional semesters or, eventually, be dropped from the program.

Rahul July 6, 2012 at 9:41 am

The introduction of the Bachelors, yes. But students and employers persist in regarding the Diploma as stronger which is probably was. Ergo the Diploma isn’t going to disappear anytime soon and the employment market discriminates against Bachelor’s degrees accordingly.

affenkopf July 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

It is going to disappear since almost all universities don’t offer the old degrees anymore (exception are some subjects like law and medicine)

TallDave July 6, 2012 at 10:40 am

Interesting. But what are the restrictions on changing majors?

Shades of Fred Cassidy…

affenkopf July 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

Never heard of restrictions on changing majors. If you change them to late and study longer than a certain amount of time you lose out on federal student loans (same thing happens if you study too long without changing majors).

GW July 6, 2012 at 9:27 am

The most important detail in this story is that Mr Pohd was studying at a private, for-profit institution, which offers smaller classes than a public institution (the vast majority of German higher educational institutions are public), thus budget planning at the school is likely to be based on maintaining a fixed number of bodies in seats. Although Mr Pohl’s accelerated study would have been umproblematic at a state school, it represented a loss of planned income to the private.

allen July 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

And in Germany a “loss of planned income” is actionable?

Maybe I ought to sue some random bunch of Germans since their not buying what I planned to sell them represents a loss of my planned income.

Andreas Moser July 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

No, but breach of contract is actionable.

Hasdrubal July 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

How do those schools handle students failing out? They can’t expect a 100% graduation rate, can they? Or, are they like Japanese universities: Hard to get into, easy to get out of?

adam.smith July 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

it’s a private non-for profit university – that’s what gemeinnützig means.

Also, I have no idea what that has to do with German culture. German culture – as GW points out correctly – is going to a public university, where no one complains if you graduate in two years.
This is a contract dispute between a private individual and a private institution and what he should have to pay depends on what’s in the contract. That really shouldn’t be all that shocking for a libertarian.

Lou July 6, 2012 at 9:54 am

Maybe the problem is the classes are insanely easy if it’s possible to cram 11 semesters worth of course work into 3. I couldn’t imagine doing this regardless of any note sharing scheme my friends and I might have concocted.

Andreas Moser July 7, 2012 at 9:53 am

The private universities in Germany do have the reputation of being a bit easy and unscientific, yes.
I don’t see why anybody would go to a private university if he has also been accepted by a state university. (There are some exceptions, especially in arts, design, theatre.)

fle July 6, 2012 at 9:55 am

C’me on, it’s FOM.
Seriously, they would have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they simply had let him go.
That they didn’t just tells me they don’t like the precedent this sets.
FOM is intended to be a part-time college.
The exams are easy enough, I guess if you went full time on them, a lot of students could finish in four semesters…
In the medium term they will have no choice but to adopt pay-by-credit.
As GW correctly pointed out, there’s no problem with finishing early at a German government institution. They’re even quite happy with it since they sometimes get a cash incentive from the Land for a higher graduation rate within the regular study time.

mw July 6, 2012 at 9:58 am

HA. $3700. like graduating a few weeks early here, why bother?

james July 6, 2012 at 10:06 am

The Culture that is Germany:

Unemployment rate 5%
Deficit 1%
Health Care Spending 11% of GDP

How does this compare to the US or the UK?

Oh those crazy incompetent Germans!

What’s with the German bashing Tyler.

Tyler Cowen July 6, 2012 at 11:11 am

Ich liebe Deutschland.

GW July 6, 2012 at 11:38 am

(And yes, Germany mandates the purchase of private insurance if you are not insured through an employer. )

prior_approval July 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Actually, that is not technically true, at least from what I’ve been told (though it is true for all people earning money through a regular employer) – but since essentially all health care in Germany is private (the doctors and dentists most certainly are), not having health insurance means paying the full bill for treatment – and (not exactly theoretically) losing all one’s savings, house, etc. to pay for it.

See, just like in the U.S. The big difference that only the most stupid or greedy or reckless individuals in Germany who do not have a steady job and/or not using state support (the unemployed, for example, are ensured health care, particularly through the AOK) can even end up in this situation. For this reason, no one in Germany is fighting for the right to be uninsured – who wants to fight for the privilege of being bankrupted over the long term to save a bit of money in the short term?

Really, the culture that is America, particularly in regards to health care, is the one that the rest of the world just can’t understand.

Jan July 6, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Most Germans are required to get insurance through the federal social insurance system. If you’re employed, you’re charged a premium that goes to the government based on your income, and the employer pays almost the same amount into the pool. Though the financing is controlled by the government, the individual himself chooses one of about 200 non-profit sickness funds that in turn receive a risk-adjusted premium from the government pool to administer the health insurance benefits. The sickness funds are all heavily regulated and a minimum package of benefits is required.

For people who make above a certain amount of money it is possible to opt out of the social insurance system and get private insurance (theoretically, I think these are who may choose to go uninsured), but once you leave it is not possible to re-enter the social insurance program unless you fall into poverty, and so 75% of those who are eligible to get private insurance choose to stay in the publicly financed system anyway. Only about 10% of the total population is privately insured.

Since 1995, long-term care insurance has been required for everyone, even those with high incomes.

JWatts July 6, 2012 at 7:01 pm

“What’s with the German bashing Tyler.”

I fail to see where Tyler bashed Germany. His post was neither positive nor negative, just informative.

4runner July 6, 2012 at 10:19 am

$3,772 that the institution lost in tuition revenue when he finished a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 3 semesters, not the 11 that would have been expected,

The cost per semester is less than $500, i.e., trivial in comparison to the opportunity cost of not being able to work during those semesters. He should cut them a check and go away happy.

It is all fun a games to titter about the illogical suit, but the tuition for even public tuition in the States is nowhere near funny…

I’m waiting patiently for a “Culture that is America” post….

affenkopf July 6, 2012 at 10:31 am

The culture that is private universities in Germany. I know that public universities try very hard to get students to graduate on time, funding for students who finish on time is much higher than for students who take even a semester too long (German politicians have never heard the word incentive).

Joe Sanchez July 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

And if this had taken place at a private college in the States, they would’ve sued him for $120-200k and it would be no longer funny. Ha ha those silly Germans.

I wonder why the Hochschule cares enough to sue for ~2500 euros. I guess they need to make an example out of him.

Eric H July 7, 2012 at 10:26 am

You are missing the point. Private schools in the US wouldn’t sue students because (a) suing your customers is a sure way to make sure you have fewer of them, and (b) the pricing system is set up differently enough that this scheme wouldn’t work in private schools here (they charge somewhat proportionally to credits, though perhaps in block pricing, and typically limit the credits available in a period of time, both of which have been pointed out by other commenters).

Why doesn’t (a) apply in Germany? Again, different culture. This is just an informed guess, but I’d bet that most if not all of those students of the private schools were Hauptschule rather than Gymnasium graduates, and/or perhaps they did not pass the Abitur test. You do realize that if college is free, there must be some means of rationing it? For everyone else (e.g., for people who did not choose their parents wisely), there is non-free, private (not-for-profit) schooling.

The shame here in the US is that for-profit schools are enabled by federal loan programs — whether or not their degrees are worth anything — and then the feds are then fairly ruthless in their collection methods.

Very Serious Sam July 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

This isolated case has nothing to do whatsoever with ‘the culture that is Germany.’

You keep repeating this stupid and racist headline.

What’s wrong recently with the once high culture that was marginalrevolution?

Cliff July 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Racist! Against Germans!

Careless July 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm

And it’s the Germans who show up to complain about this series of posts? Would not have guessed that

Eric H July 7, 2012 at 10:00 am

1. What race are the Germans? Uniquely from, say, the Irish?
2. Since these “isolated” cases are so offensive, perhaps if Tyler only covered fi**en, fressen, und fernsehen, it would be recognizable to Germans as kultur?

If anything, I admire the cleverness of the students in finding a hole in the diploma mill rules. The Crooked Timber gang should immediately condemn his actions as exploitive and lacking in moral aesthetic, though they would also have to condemn the institution for violating his freedom.

dead serious July 6, 2012 at 10:59 am

Based on the Crooked Timber responses, I would presume the prevailing attitude here is that Pohl should just suck it up and pay.

Power asymmetry FTW.

Careless July 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm

You got that out of people saying “you don’t have to do it if it’s not in your contract”? You might want to think again.

johnnyo July 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

My undergraduate university (US) also required payment for a full 8 semesters’ tuition to obtain a degree, even if sufficient credits were earned in less time. Not uniquely a German phenomenon.

Dan July 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Really? Which university? Just curious. I graduated in 3 years precisely so I could cut costs. Saved 2 semesters of tuition at a 52k/year list price school, not too shabby.

Willitts July 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

Over the years, I have taught classes on Business Law and CFA prep courses. Some of these involved distance learning students. In my limited experience, there are general two types of distance learners: As and Fs. Self teaching requires great self discipline.

Recall that in the days of classical arts and sciences, many people were self taught in their father’s extensive library augmented with private tutors.

Law school and, from what I hear, the research phase of a PhD program are largely self teaching.

The entire CFA program is self taught unless you pay for prep classes. The program has a very high failure rate.

I applaud this gentleman for his ability to get “through” the material. I would be skeptical about his knowledge retention, but I have the same concern for traditional students.

IVV July 6, 2012 at 11:22 am

Does Germany still have its university classes on the “lecture and final” system? By which you have only lectures all semester long, and your grade in the class is dependent on a single final? And are most of those finals verbal exams?

In that case, if you were good at learning and retaining the material, then it should be quite possible to overbook classes, learn the material, and stagger out your exam periods properly to finish quickly.

I just remember how my German wife wanted a month to do nothing but study before each exam, but didn’t know how to handle the weekly exams and homework in American classes. She panicked when I wouldn’t spend every waking moment studying for exams back in grad school, until after I’d ace the test anyway.

Floccina July 6, 2012 at 11:45 am

Seems to me that the school is admitting that they sell diplomas and not education. That is signalling.

German Dude July 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

It’s some weird private “university”. Almost all real universities in Germany are public, and would most certainly not have a problem with finishing early.

anon July 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Why is the private university “weird”? Because it’s different? That’s the cultural angle of the article. German culture discourages people from doing things differently from everyone else. This kid is being hassled for not following the Regelstudienzeit (normal time to study). I suspect he would ruffle feathers at a public university too with his entrepreneurial disregard for the status quo.

Malto Dextrin July 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Ah, but what Pohl doesn’t realize is that he is missing out on crucial years of learning how to think and write, grow as a person and citizen, and build his network. (Aren’t these intangibles the reason education is supposed to remain a value?) Given that, he shouldn’t have to pay for the whole cola, since it isn’t possible “to drink it all incredibly fast.”

American Teacher July 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm

This just confirms what I already believe about a lot of
“higher education”–it’s about what you pay for, not what you learn…

mcmike July 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Symmetrically, most colleges (US) have maximum limits on credit hours per semester. I once took 26 semester hours in one semester, under the ‘forgiveness rather than permission’ doctrine. MInd you, I was on campus for the customary number of years, but just took a lot of classes. I faced no consequences, but then again, this was in the 80s.

Hans July 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I don`t unterstand why somebody wants to finish university as soon as possible.
I mean in the end university or college is fun. Lots of party.

Working doesn´t bring a lot of fun.

JWatts July 6, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Probably someone that has a different set of priorities than you do, at a guess. ;)

Andreas Moser July 7, 2012 at 9:58 am

I fully agree with Hans.
I wish I had stayed longer at university, done some other subjects, put in some exchange semesters abroad.
Luckily, I managed to quit working regularly when I was 33 and have returned to university.

Douglas Knight July 6, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Why are they suing, rather than holding the degree hostage? Possession is 9/10 of the law.

David July 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm

German universities should charge per grade-awarding course, not by the semester. But the real coup would be to allow anyone who pays the (low) course price to take the exams, whether they attended or even lived in Europe. That way, people who learned the stuff online could get internationally recognized degrees, and German universities would get a new source of income (drop-in test-takers) which don’t much tax the resources of the university.

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