Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Rise of American Market-Driven Education System in the United Kingdom, But Interestingly Not In Germany

In December I traveled a few hours, well perhaps a little more than a few hours, to a lovely city in Lower Saxony, Germany—Osnabruck, to teach U.S. corporate law to German law students at Universitat Osnabruck. The students were eager to learn about the U.S. common law legal system, and agreed to enhance their German civil code legal education by adding an English common law component including studying certain aspects of British and U.S. laws. The program is part of Universat Osnabruck’s extensive commercial law program that exposes students to laws of jurisdiction throughout the European Union and North America. The program also provides fairly impressive transnational externship placements with public and private institutions as a requisite part of the law curriculum. As a result, the laws students receive doctrinal theory as well as real world practical experience. Universat Osnabruck has been operating on this model for approximately the last ten years. In addition, the law school offers an extensive comparative law summer program with partners in Europe, Canada, and the American Institute. Viva German law schools!

The commercial law program is really quite well run by Prof. Dr. Martin Schmidt-Kessel, a German attorney, who has spent some time in New York working at Rogers & Wells in the heyday of the technology stock explosion just prior to the industry’s implosion. Lecturer Matt LeMieux, an American attorney, former ACLU litigator, who has been living in Germany for the past five years all for the love of German culture, is an integral component in securing American law professors to make the journey to Osnabruck. They are an interesting legal team and offer a wealth of American ideology and legal know-how to aspiring German law students. The German law students are an industrious lot. After all, it takes a special type of law student to not only study a foreign jurisdiction’s laws but to do it in a foreign language. The class is taught you guessed it—in English. The students’ primary language is German. I would have loved to have taught the class in French, but some well meanings folks may have thought it rather odd that an American law professor was teaching U.S. corporate law in French. Oh, well c’est la vie.

It is from this perspective that I was surprised to read about the student protest turn riot in London over the increase in student tuition and fees. Nothing in the German law students’ reaction indicated that anything was amiss. There were no student riots in Germany. No outrage expressed in the local German news coverage. I didn’t even hear German student raise their voices in anger, in solidarity with their British cohorts. When I raised the issue in class, I was hoping for a robust discussion on American capitalism, market driven decision-making, and the violation of the public trust. After all isn’t Germany the land of Karl Marx and Martin Luther? Viva the sinful proletariat, and the dutifully religious common working man and woman! The students simply stared at me. Finally, a brave student shared that German students “do not pay very much for their legal education and the costs in America for education is way too much. Then the American students have a BIG debt. How do American student repay their loans when they cannot find a job,” he asked? Interesting. I had crossed the Atlantic to teach U.S. corporate law to German students, and here I was being lectured by German students about the market-driven U.S. legal education system, which ladens recent graduates with a huge debt burden that probably take years to repay, if at all.

After class, I inquired as to how much do German students pay for their legal education. “Approximately, 600 Euros, “I was told. “For books,” I confirmed. “No for one year’s tuition.” “What! At the current currency exchange rate that is less than $1,000 American dollars,” I stammered. As I continued discussing the issue with a number of Germans, an intriguing philosophy began to develop, in essence--the German Government believes that Germans should be well educated in order for Germany to remain a competitive commercial and manufacturing powerhouse on the international scene. As such, the German Government heavily subsidizes the education system –at the undergraduate and graduate levels to encourage Germans to attend university. It seems to have worked pretty well when we compare Germany’s literacy rate, employment rate, college-graduate rate, commercial preeminence, et cetera. The Germans are not only competitive; they are arguably in certain sectors doing remarkably better than us market-driven Americans. Perhaps it is time that we Americans rethink our market-driven education system, and learn a few lessons from our German colleagues across the Atlantic.

Lydie Nadia Cabrera Pierre-Louis


  1. Professor the German education system is much better than the American system. Americans only care about making money and it doesn't matter how much debt we need to go into to make a dollar. It's really sad but that is the capitalist system no point in fighting it.

  2. i had no idea. this is incredible. the american education system has lost its way.

  3. If we can assess the educational system of both US and Germany, they are both excellent but there are some differences that reflects on the way that professors and teachers taught in schools. Learning of earning money is not just a concept of making money. Know how to handle money problems too.

  4. That German law students pay so little for their education, while startling at first glance to this American, is perhaps not surprising upon further reflection. Germany has notoriously high tax rates (45 percent top marginal rate for income taxes), but, like much of Europe, they have impressive social programs compared to the United States. Some of these manifest in small ways (such as 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in Germany vs. 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave in the US), but the differences in tuition do seem eye-popping.

    Education in America is certainly market-driven, especially in law schools. Tuition at the top-ranked schools exceed $45K, partly because schools know that students will pay (or take out loans) for it. For example, annual in-state tuition at the University of Michigan (a public institution, ranked #9 in the country for law) for a law student is $44,410 but only about $13,000 for a general undergraduate. Furthermore, law schools are often viewed as a cash cow for universities, at least from the outside; they require professors, computer labs, libraries, and classrooms (like any other school/department), but no studio space, laboratories, expensive equipment/machinery/supplies, etc. (Note: Based on the article cited, the tuition hikes in the UK seem to result more from government shortfalls than from increased market demand for education.)

    That being said, American educational institutions also receive governmental subsidies, just to a much lesser degree than their European counterparts. Public institutions receive a great deal of funding from their respective states, and even private universities receive monies in the form of research grants and the like from the NIH, NEA, etc. Furthermore, the US government offers subsidized and low-interest-rate loans to students. This assistance (welfare for universities?) leads to lower costs and increased access to higher education.

    It is popular these days to criticize the current US administration’s efforts as being part of a socialist agenda, much like those of (gasp!) European nations. However, I think that if the benefits accruing from social programs were more visible (or more publicized) and reached a greater number of citizens, conservative criticism would fall on deafer ears. After all, Americans merely want to get what they pay for, and many would be happy to pay their taxes if they could more readily see and take advantage of the benefits (such as dirt-cheap education) of the social programs funded by their taxes.

  5. I find it interesting that although US law students pay such high tuition rates, and yet (in my personal experience) it seems the majority of students lack the enthusiasm for learning that you witnessed in Germany. It makes me wonder: if we see education as a market commodity, then perhaps it becomes less about learning and almost exclusively about the end product (viz., to check off classes, obtain a law degree, and pass the bar, rather than seeking a comprehensive education in which, for example, we take the time to understand laws in other legal systems, similar to the curriculum you taught abroad).

  6. Although there is certainly no doubt that the American post-secondary education system is market driven this does not mean that the system is 'American' in an ideological sense. Instead, I feel that this is actually a topic where two fundamentally American ideologies are at odds. On the one hand is the capitalist model (the model currently employed) which is seen to benefit the education system by rewarding the best schools with students willing to pay a higher tuition. On the other hand is class mobility. Class mobility is something that American capitalists have prided themselves on for years when championing their cause. “You can be anything you want to be!,” they say. But does that actually work? I would suggest that it does not. If you are from the middle or lower classes then the amount of loans required to complete the 7 years of post-secondary education culminating in law school may not be possible. This begs the question can everyone really be a lawyer? The answer seems to be no. Capitalism may be preventing class mobility by driving up education costs. In this sense, I feel that the German education model may in fact be more “American” than the American model.

  7. It is very interesting to learn that about the costs of the German legal education. It even makes me a bit jealous.

    Along a different line, I would be interested to hear any insights on the transition German students face, going from the University to Law School. I know that most (if not all) German (and maybe European) classes are structured where the entire class grade is based on the final. Having suffered through the transition as an American law student, I would be curious to hear if this prior experience effected their views or experiences at all, compared to a US law student.

  8. Having a strong interests in the International Business market, and having taken international law classes, I CERTAINLY agree that a lesson or two could be learned from "taking a few hints" from foreign states. Especially when it comes to education.

    While 15 years ago I might have been beaten with a stick for making such a comment - as the 'American Education System' sat at the top of the ant hill along w/other countries such as Japan - today, are system is failing, and at an alarming rate. Sparing statistical analysis, our education system needs an overall, and I feel it would 'reckless' of our educators not to look outside our borders for advice and support for how to improve our system.

    With that said, my fellow colleagues all make significant observations. Currently are system appears to endorse a "race to the finish line" motif, and not a "quality is what matters" approach. However, I think this issue needs to be analyzed in conjunction with the current state of the economy. Students are seeking higher level degrees b/c they "have to in order to get a job," right? But yet, if we took an opportunity to endorse higher level education for the "value it could add to America," and not the "value it added to the individual applicant who is applying for X job," I think our country could start to make substantial strides in the right direction. That is, if we endorsed higher education for making our country a better place, and not just making the individual a better individual, maybe providing more gov't grants to students who are seeking higher educations could encourage students to focus more on LEARNING, than just on obtaining the degree. It’s the knowledge that adds a benefit to society – not the piece of paper sitting on the wall behind the manager’s desk. MORE MONEY FOR HIGHER LEVEL EDUCATION WOULD ONLY PRODUCE BENEFITS – I welcome comments from those who think it could produce harm.

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