German university students campaign for education reform, 2009


The abolition of tuition fees, the opening of post-bachelor programs to everyone, increased funding for universities, the lightening of course loads, the reduction of class sizes, the lengthening of college preparation programs, the repeal of the Bologna Process, and decreased commercialization of education.

Time period

February, 2009 to December, 2009



Location City/State/Province

Essen, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Mainz, Tubingen, Munich, Freiberg, Bielefield, Leipzig, and Bonn

Location Description

University campuses and city centers.
Jump to case narrative


Not known


The Social Democratic Students Union

External allies

The Left Party

Involvement of social elites

German Education Minister Annette Schavan.


The German government, the European Union, and German and universities.

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

There were isolated incidents of protesters throwing rocks at police.

Repressive Violence

Police often broke up demonstrations and forcibly removed students from buildings. They occasionally arrested protesters.


Economic Justice
Human Rights



Group characterization

German university and secondary school students

Groups in 2nd Segment

Ludwig-Maximilian University students

Groups in 3rd Segment

The Left Party (Exit)
The Social Democratic Students Union
The Social Democratic Students Union
The Left Party
Students throughout Germany

Segment Length

Approximately 2 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

3 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

The Bologna Process, a European agreement signed by Germany in 1999, made degree programs comparable throughout Europe.  In Germany this meant that programs originally designed to last five or six years were compressed into three or four, creating a degree program quite similar to the United States’.  This substantially increased the course load for students.  Decreased funding for universities also meant a poorer standard of education, larger classes, and the implementation of tuition fees.  Between February and December 2009, thousands of German students protested these changes.

On February 4, a few hundred students protested tuition fees in Bielefield, Germany, and the next day, the rector’s office at the Teacher Training School in Freiberg was occupied for twenty-four hours for the same reason.  After these initial actions, however, the campaign died down for two months, with very little activity.  In early May, students at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich placed symbolic hurdles in front of the university cafeteria, indicating the difficulty students had paying tuition fees. 

June saw the most fervent activity among students since the beginning of the protests.  The German Left Party and the Social Democratic Students’ Union helped to organize the protests.  On June 17, students in seventy cities around Germany began a week of protests aimed at the abolition of tuition fees.  Students occupied university buildings, marched, and blocked streets.  In Mainz, students occupied a state parliament building, covering it in toilet paper.  Several thousand Berlin students gathered outside of City Hall, demonstrating with homemade signs.  Both demonstrations were in protest of tuition fees.  Students also performed mock bank robberies to highlight the massive bailouts banks had received from the German government.  To spread their message, university students used music and social networking websites.  Many wrote their own rap songs that described their frustrations with the educational system.  Students distributed the songs on Facebook and Youtube.  Social networking sites and other communicative technology were important for more than just distributing music however.  The campaign lacked a single leading institution, and so students at various universities acted on their own, but got feedback and ideas from other students at other universities through the use of cell phones and social networking websites.

Besides the government’s introduction of tuition fees, there were many other reasons students protested.  Students were angry about the highly stratified nature of the German education.  At a very young age, students are divided into three separate tracks, with only one of them leading to a full college degree.  This system disproportionately excluded students from lower socio-economic classes from getting college degrees.  Another grievance among protesters was that while banks were receiving multi-million euro bailouts, university education was underfunded.  On average, German universities spend $11,000 per student per year, which is half of what American public universities spend.  Students also demanded smaller class sizes, more one-on-one time with professors, and greater flexibility within lesson plans.  The German government received the protesters demands quite well.  Even the conservative Education Minister (liberals were generally more supportive of the students’ campaign than conservatives), Annette Schavan, spoke publicly about the need for reform; many others in the German government echoed her call.

After large-scale protests in June, there was a lull in the action until October, largely due to summer vacations.  Beginning on the 21st, students occupied the University of Vienna lecture hall and student actions in Austria quickly spread to Germany.  At twenty different German universities, students occupied lecture halls.  By November 17, the lecture hall occupations turned into marches, and students publicly remonstrated with the authorities.  The largest protest took place in Hamburg, where ten thousand students marched.  Overall, 100,000 students marched in fifty cities around Germany.  Protesters sang and carried homemade banners and signs.  Most protests went without incident, but in Essen, protesters blocked streets and 154 students were detained.  On December 10, police used pepper spray on student protestors in Bonn. 

The campaign was mostly a success.  Ministers bowed to the students’ pressure, and reduced both students’ course loads and exams.  The ministers said that they aimed to make sure that schoolwork and classes took up no more than thirty-nine hours a week for forty-six weeks of the year.  They also abolished regulations that made receiving cross-credits and switching classes difficult.  They did not, however, open up post-bachelor education to everyone or completely repeal all of the Bologna Process’ reforms.


The Austrian students protesting with similar demands were a major inspiration for the movement (see "Austrian University Students Campaign for Education Reform, 2009") (1,2)


"2009 IN REVIEW: Education Protests Go Global." Democratizing Education Network. 7 Jan. 2010. Web. <>.

"85,000 Students Protest in Germany." New Zealand Herald. 18 Nov. 2009. Web.
Anti-Flag Supports Student Protests in Vienna, Audimax, 1.11.2009. Perf. Anti-Flag. World News. Web. <>.

"Crisis at German Universities Boils over into Demonstrations." Deutsche Press-Agentur, 17 Nov. 2009. Web.

Dirmeier, Alex. "Student Protests Sweep Germany." In Defense of Marxism. International Marxist Tendency, 22 June 2009. Web. <>.

"Education Minister Calls for Speedy Reform as Students Protest." The Local. The Local Germany's News in English, 12 Nov. 2009. Web. <>.

"German Students Ditch Classes to Protest School Conditions." DW-World. 17 June 2009. Web. <,,4336697,00.html>.

"German Students Protest Changes to Education System." On Campus. 17 June 2009. Web. <>.

"German Students Protest University Reforms." DW-World. 13 Nov. 2009. Web. <,,4888239,00.html>.

"German University Strike Spreads." Euronews. 17 Nov. 2009. Web. <>.

"Germany Caves in to Student Protests to Reform Universites." Deutsche Press-Agentur, 10 Dec. 2009. Web.

Marketplace. NPR. Los Angeles, California, 4 May 2009. Marketplace. NPR, 4 May 2009. Web. <>. Transcript.

"Protesters Evicted from Vienna University after Two Months." Deutsche Press-Agentur, 21 Dec. 2009. Web.

Rothwell, Kate. "Students Protest across Germany." The University Observer. 24 Nov. 2009. Web. <>.

Stern, Johannes. "Politicians, Media Strive to Contain Student Protests in Austria and Germany." World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International, 25 Nov. 2009. Web. <>.

"Student Protests in Europe." Critical. Internet. Journalism. 24 Nov. 2009. Web. <>.

"Student Protests Spread across Austria." Deutsche Press-Agentur. Web.

"Student Protests Spread in Germany and Austria." Deutsche Press-Agentur, 12 Nov. 2009. Web.

"Students Protest across Germany against Education Reforms." DW-World. 17 June 2009. Web. <,,4328767,00.html>.

Additional Notes

The campaign was unusual because it didn't have a central organization or a defined group of leaders that ran it. It was largely organized by students at individual universities, and got inspiration from the actions of other students. The internet also played a large role in the campaign, and allowed students to communicate and organize between universities.

Edited by Max Rennebohm (20/06/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Danny Hirschel-Burns, 06/02/2011