Germany has a dedicated and disciplined workforce, thanks to its academic-based and hands-on education system.
I WENT to Germany for the first time in 1952. It was a short break during the time when I was studying in England. One of my first observations was the attitude its people had towards work — they truly impressed me with their perseverance, responsibility, discipline and dedication.
Germany has for a long time been among the strongest economies in the world.
Its cars, chemicals, engineering items and even its environmental technology – are products famous for their high quality, making Germany one of the world’s leading export countries.
Even today, as the Euro crisis is shaking Europe, the nation’s economy thrives. What is the key to Germany’s economic success? What can we learn from their example?
First of all, I believe that Germany is one of the countries that have gained an identity essentially through their system of education.
As a country with few natural resources, Germany’s wealth relies entirely on the innovative potential and the dynamics of its companies and workforce.
Focus on research
It is no surprise that the country puts great emphasis on education and learning and just as much attention on research and development.
Education and research provide the basis for the creative and innovative potential that drives Germany’s economic success.
I would first like to introduce some facts about Germany’s tertiary education system. There are about 400 institutions of higher education in Germany, offering some 16,000 degree programmes in which over two million students are enrolled.
Since 2010, courses at German universities have been adapted and cater to the internationally-recognised Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes.
Approximately 12.5% or 265,000 students are pursuing degree programmes that are internationally recognised at German universities, making the country the fourth-most proffered host country for international students, following the United States, Britain and Australia.
Of that number, 38,000 international students come from India, China and Southeast Asia.
Many of Germany’s international students undertake degree programmes partly or entirely taught in English, particularly at postgraduate level.
The number of Malaysian students in Germany quadrupled in the last 10 years. Currently, almost 900 young Malaysians pursue degree courses in German universities.
The majority of them take advantage of cutting-edge science and engineering courses.
Some important characteristics of the German higher education system can be traced back to the famous scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Humboldt carried out substantial university reforms.
His ideals of the coexistence of research and teaching has become a model for universities all over the world.
Central to this model is the idea of research-oriented learning and the transfer of knowledge from the spirit of research.
Students and teachers are joined together in an endeavour to critically examine traditional bodies of knowledge and to actively advance learning.
Although quite some time has passed since Humboldt implemented his model, his ideas are still present in the German understanding of what a university is.
Teaching at a German university, for example, tends to be less based on instruction than elsewhere. Instead, project-oriented learning where students jointly solve complex problems on their own is preferred.
This requires a higher responsibility for their learning process on the side of the students, and space for them to try their own ways of inventive problem-solving in this research-oriented learning.
Thus, in order to teach students to be innovative and creative, they are granted more academic freedom.
Obviously, this system demands, and at the same time trains the students to be more responsible, disciplined and independent. Besides, they also learn to make their own action plans and manage time.
Another distinctive feature of many German universities is their close co-operation with the industry. More than 200 German universities of applied sciences or Fachhochschule (FH) typically maintain close ties with companies.
The FH offer more practice-based oriented teaching and applied research, primarily directed towards practical, vocational requirements and local industry’s needs.
Studying at a FH usually involves internships. Research projects for the Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis are often conducted in intense collaboration with industry companies, thus ensuring the applicability of the education and the acquired knowledge.
The FH model of a hands-on academic education in collaboration with local industries has advantages.
It is closer to the demands of the labour market and ensures employability.
The majority of Malaysian students in Germany are keen to embark on courses at FH.
Finally, one of the peculiar characteristics of the German higher education system is the fact that it is mostly state-financed.
As opposed to other countries, Germans strongly believe that education is not a business.
The vast majority of universities are public. Private universities play a comparatively subordinate role.
More than 95% of students attend public institutions, which fully concentrate on keeping a high, internationally competitive quality in teaching and research.
As a consequence, German universities generally do not charge tuition fees. Only two out of 16 states levy fees, namely Bavaria and Lower Saxony, and even then, the amount is capped at 500 (RM2,000) per semester.
Malaysians have a tendency to focus on the Anglo-Saxon countries when it comes to studying abroad.
However, they should broaden their horizons and perhaps consider Germany as an alternative.
Graduates from German universities have easy access to the German employment market.
They are now allowed to work up to 18 months while they seek a graduate-level job.
Graduates who have such a graduate-level job can stay and gain some valuable practical work experience.
The German Alumni Association Malaysia (GAAM) is now playing an active role in promoting German education and acts as a networking platform for German graduates in Malaysia.
TAN SRI DR YAHAYA IBRAHIM is the vice-patron of the German Alumni Association Malaysia. The STAR Online Education 21/07/2013