Friday, November 23, 2007


Elites in Europe

Yesterday I attended a very interesting colloquium.

Our university was raised to the new status of "Elite University" about a year ago, the first to get this title together with two universities in Munich. Recently 7 more universities followed, so that we have in total 10 so called Elite Universities in Germany now.

This colloquium with the amusing title "Elites -- what for?" consists of a number of talks and discussions that take a closer looks at elite in different parts of society. Yesterdays talk was held by Prof. Dr. Michael Hartmann from the Department of Social Science of the University of Darmnstadt and called "Elites in Europe".

In his talk he spoke about the current situation of elites in Europe, how homogenous or heterogenous these elites are - e.g. do elites only recruit among themselves or can people from lover ranks of the society reach these circles as well - and of course also spoke about the new German Elite University initiative.

To summarize the talk, Prof Hartmann named the UK and France as examples of countries with very closed, very homogeneous elites in almost all areas of society (politics, justice , civil service, military, business) and the Skandinavien countries as the other example of countries with elites that are less homogeneous. Germany he ranked somewhere in the middle.

According to him the German business sector is dominated by a small business elite, very much as it is the case in the UK or France, but other areas like politics and education much less.
For example our canceler has in the majority of cases been from a working class or lower middle class background (except Helmut Schmidt), while the British PM is almost exclusively from Oxbridge (Brown is not, Blair was).

The German Research and education system is (or was) also very different from the UK or France with their elite Oxbridge or Grand Ecole. In Germany so far it didn't make a difference which university you graduated from. But now with the process of elite universities, this will change, as those students from "Elite Universities" will be more recognized. Of course these universities will get more funding, attract better Professors and soon also the better students. On the other hand of course the other universities will get less and soon we might have bad universities, something we also didn't have so far.

I must admit that I have been very positive about the decision to push research and put in extra money into our best universities. But there might be a certain truth in Prof Hartmann's criticism.

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