Why are American colleges considered the best

Universities and colleges

Hans N. Weiler


Dr. phil., Dr. phil. h.c., born 1934; 1965-1993 Professor of Education and Political Science at Stanford University; 1993-1999 Rector of the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder).
Address: Stanford University, 752 Tolman Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-1045, USA.
Email: [email protected]

Publications among others: (together with Heinrich A. Mintrup and Elisabeth Fuhrmann) Educational Change and Social Transformation: Teachers, Schools, and Universities in Eastern Germany, London 1996; (together with Hans-J├╝rgen Puhle) Career Centers - A University Political Challenge, Hamburg 2001; Educational research and educational reform: On the deficits of German educational science, in: Ingrid Gogolin / Rudolf Tippelt (eds.), Innovation through education, Opladen 2003.

The intense competition for students, professors, donations and third-party funds means that quality in higher education in the USA is constantly being discussed, discussed, measured and promoted.

Prologue: On the Problems of Comparison

In a letter to doctor Jared Eliot from Connecticut on April 12, 1753, Benjamin Franklin tells the story of the contract negotiations between the colonial government of Virginia and the six Indian tribes resident there, the "Six Nations". [1] As a particularly generous gesture, the British negotiators had offered the representatives of the Indians to send half a dozen of their best young people to the College of Williamsburg for a first-class British education at the expense of the colonial government - "to bring them up in the Best manner" [2 ]. The representatives of the Indians considered the matter and came back to the negotiating table the following day. They thanked them politely for the generous offer, but then declined it. They asked for understanding that their ideas about education were not the same as those of the white people they spoke to.

The representatives of the "Six Nations" further explained that some time ago some of their young tribal comrades were sent to the colleges of the white man for training, but were actually completely useless for the life of the Indians when they returned. In order not to appear ingratitude, however, the Indians added an offer that the "Gentlemen of Virginia" should send half a dozen of their best sons to the Indians for training, and promised that they would treat themselves with the greatest care To accept education, to teach them all that the Indians know, and to make real men out of them: "... and make men of them" [3].

That is how it is with different conceptions of education, and one is occasionally reminded of the misunderstandings between the "Gentlemen of Virginia" and the Indian tribal leaders of the "Six Nations" when listening to the discussions about the comparison between American and German higher education .

As a result of my biography, I have been questioned several times on this subject. [4] I've learned that doing this involves exposing yourself to a not inconsiderable risk. So a clarification in advance: I am not one of those who the former Minister of Science of the Free State of Saxony once said that they "can only imagine German universities as an American blend" [5]. In other words: In my opinion, the American higher education system is only of limited use as a model for German higher education policy - for reasons that will be discussed later.

At the same time, however, I am of the opinion that one can learn a great deal from a careful consideration of other higher education systems - at least the very beneficial insight that one's own higher education system could also be different from what it is. The usefulness of such comparisons for the improvement of the German higher education system should be made clear on three topics: dealing with quality, dealing with decisions and dealing with students.

In any case, we have to report on American experiences that cannot be transferred one-to-one, but from which we can learn a lot for the further development of German universities. Mind you, it is less about profound university philosophy than more about very tangible experiences.