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Dowell Travels To Germany For Higher Education Program

Published: November 15, 2012

David Dowell, vice provost for planning and budgets at CSULB, received a Fulbright award to participate in “Do More with Less – Implementing Change in Higher Education Management in Germany” as part of a delegation of chief financial officers (CFOs) from 15 U.S. higher education institutions that visited Germany, Oct. 7-13.

Led by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the German-American Fulbright Commission, the CFO delegation compared lean management at American and German universities and identified best practices in both systems.

“Although Germany has one of the strongest economies in Europe, universities there are experiencing financial shortages due to the Eurocrisis,” said Dowell. “In Germany, as in the United States, a post-war baby boom population is aging and retiring. German planners are quite worried about the looming impact of pensions and medical care for this large group.”

Dowell and his fellow delegates participated in workshops, expert meetings and panel discussions, and visited a range of German universities in Berlin, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg.

The goal of the visit was to introduce the U.S. administrators to the ways German universities have responded to major financial reform pressures over the past decade and the results they have achieved, as well as to explore how this might be relevant to the current U.S. situation.

Institute of International Education

“The ‘Bologna process,’ a 10-year-old Europe-wide reform of higher education, has prompted Germany to move away from a traditional K-13 plus “Diplom” system to a K-12 plus bachelor’s degree system,” said Dowell. “However, the German bachelor’s degree remains quite different from its American counterpart in having no general education component, having little or no movement among majors and being very career-focused. Again, the high relevance of German education to subsequent careers is evident.

“German higher education is almost completely free, even to international students,” he added. “German universities generally lack many things taken for granted in American institutions such as student services, housing and athletics. Concern for student success varied greatly among the institutions I visited. Differences coincided with funding policies. In one institution with financial incentives for degree completion, there was discussion of student success. In another institution with a funding policy that did not measure completion or even attendance, our group perceived an intentional practice of driving students away to balance costs and revenues.”

Dowell noted that Germany has a strong focus on education geared toward creating skilled workers.

“The German federal government has created large programs to fund research in key scientific and technical issues that are relevant to German concerns such as climate change, biotechnology, environment and robotics,” he said. “In this way, the federal government is steering the research universities toward relevance to the German economy. The universities of applied sciences play a major role in training a high skill workforce in engineering and technology fields (but not so much basic science fields) that immediately goes to work in industrial powerhouses such as BMW, Mercedes, Bosch and others.

“Another uniquely interesting sector,” added Dowell, “is the skilled craft guilds which operate training programs producing highly-skilled craftsmen in such fields as welding, carpentry, machine operation and others areas.”

David Dowell with delegation in Germany
Vice provost David Dowell (back row wearing hat) with delegation in Germany.

With escalating financial pressures at U.S. institutions, senior administrators are facing unique challenges that are forcing them to react and restructure to maximize resources. Public higher education institutions are challenged further by state funding cuts that translate into budget crunches and force them to prioritize their programs. The study tour addressed these issues by examining financial strategies and efficiencies in the German model.

Questions addressed during the study tour included:

• How do German university leaders reshape their institutions and shift them from traditional state-government driven “alma maters” to modern, efficient and highly competitive knowledge providers?

• How do they slim down and professionalize their civil service-based administration—at no extra cost, and with the support of faculty?

• How do they adjust their higher education contracts with the state governments, secure quality in teaching and research and yield expected outcome-based results in student learning?

• How does change management affect faculty and students, and how do institutions in a severely underfinanced environment balance reform, lean administration, quality and market pressures?

• How do they motivate all stakeholders alike to support the process?

The seminar was specifically designed for U.S. university leaders in charge of the administrative processes, management structures and the financial resources of their institutions.

The other CFOs and vice presidents of finance and administration selected to participate were American University; Arizona University System; George Mason University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Massachusetts College of Art and Design; Simmons College; State University of New York-System; The Ohio State University; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Massachusetts, Lowell; University of Minnesota; University of North Texas; University of West Florida; and Western Kentucky University.

This delegation was part of a series of “Higher Education Experts” seminars that IIE has implemented on behalf of the German-American Fulbright Commission and other organizations since 2002. Previous study seminars have focused on topics such as graduate education, accreditation and quality assurance, and technology transfer.