New Higher Education Act Threatens to Weaken North Rhine Westphalia as a Site of Business and Research


The Chairs of the Boards of Governors at the universities and universities of applied sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) are concerned that a new Higher Education Act based on the current draft version by the federal state government might adversely affect the competitiveness of NRW as a location for science, technology and business.  This was the general tenor at today’s State press conference in Düsseldorf. A day before, the Chairs already presented their arguments in a letter to NRW Minister President Hannelore Kraft and the NRW Minister of Education and Research, Svenja Schulze. In their conclusion they asked the ministers “to fundamentally revise the draft.”


After the coming into effect of the Higher Education Autonomy Act 2007, the NRW universities saw a very positive development, particularly as it enabled them to act independently and autonomously; the present draft however, constitutes, in the words of Dr. Annette Fugmann-Heesing, Chairwoman of the Board of Governors of Bielefeld University, “a return to the regulatory zeal of the ministries.”

According to the letter, “The present draft bill is characterized by the spirit of distrust; it creates neither trust nor is it an incentive for individual initiative and courageous action on the part of the universities. It gives the state a great extent of latitude for action, while it severely constrains the universities with over-detailed regulations and obligations.”

The Board members are also concerned that beside the loss in autonomy, there will be a loss of researchers and external funding partners to other federal states “with more research-friendly environments.” Concerning paragraph 71a of the draft bill, the letter argues that “the detailed publication of commissioned research and sources of external funding will result in a drop in academic competitiveness (through “free riders”) and the loss of industry-commissioned research, which is a driver of knowledge and innovation. No company will be willing to commission research in highly competitive areas when the university in question is obliged to openly publish the commissioning companies and their research topics at the start of a project.

The Boards of Governors were established in NRW in 2007 as central university organs. The Board advises the Rectorate and oversees the management of university governance as the highest strategy and oversight committee. It is mainly concerned with the strategic development of the universities.


Dr. Annette Fugmann-Heesing
Chairwoman of the Board of Governors of Bielefeld University
c/o Press Office of Bielefeld University
Phone +49 521 106 4170