Professors care about their online students

The quality of studying depends not least on how many students have to share a professor - in Germany there are usually very many. Thuringia, the first, comes to 44: 1, North Rhine-Westphalia, the bottom, to 91: 1. One professor looks after 66 students nationwide, six more than in 2010. In a European comparison, this is a poor value. What do such numbers mean for teaching? A conversation with Christian von Coelln, law professor in Cologne, who knows a "door opener" for groups of all sizes: When he tells how it was for him to grow up with his name in Düsseldorf.

SZ: Mr. von Coelln, how many students do you have for one professor?

Christian von Coelln: In the law faculty of the University of Cologne we have 35 professors for around 5300 students. This results in a supervision ratio of approximately one to 151.

As a good value for law is one in 60, in mechanical engineering it is even one in 30.

It has become much more crowded at universities in recent years, that's right. But it doesn't have that noticeable here for us, law has always been a mass subject. That is also politically wanted, we are a very cheap course if you look at the costs per student. For colleagues from other subjects it is already a huge group when they stand in front of 100 people. We have 300 to 400 people in the lecture hall, but sometimes 600. That is why we divided the beginners' lecture into two groups years ago.

So a certain anonymity is simply part of the Jura?

Humanities scholars often say that they studied with Professor So-and-so. We do not have that. With us, people say they studied law in Cologne. Individual support is not so important, especially in the first semesters. Later it is different, because it is about seminar papers, more intensive discussions on a higher technical level.

So, from your point of view, is the supervisory relationship okay?

No, of course that's not okay. We cannot just accept the high numbers as God given. We should seriously think about what a student-to-child ratio would be worth striving for, in law and all other subjects. Especially in North Rhine-Westphalia, we cannot always be at the bottom.

What would you wish for?

I cannot serve with specific figures. But I would like to be able to work with smaller groups as a professor earlier in my studies. Harvard or private universities in Germany also produce such good graduates because the professors take care of far fewer students and can deal with problems in a more targeted manner. We can't do that. We work intensively on cases in the working groups, with 20 or 25 people who manage my employees. I give the lectures, neither is possible. In the last semester I had a lecture, where at the end 350 people wrote the exam. Afterwards I can't even talk to everyone who didn't pass.