Universities now have one million more students than 20 years ago, but the boom has not eliminated the social imbalance. If your own parents have studied, the chances of getting a degree are still almost four times higher than if you come from a non-academic family. So more workers’ children came to the university, but above all more children of doctors, journalists, lawyers or teachers came.
If one assumes an equal distribution of intelligence and talent regardless of origin, the talent reserves of the academic families should gradually be quite exhausted, to put it kindly.
One could also say: Whoever complains about a drop in standards at the universities, who calls for a return to non-academic career paths, should first of all take a look at how many academic children who are in fact unsuitable for a course of study are probably out and about on the campuses.
Whereby these, and this is really fascinating, bring a decisive competitive advantage over those first-year students from so-called “educationally disadvantaged homes”: Often they have learned the habitus and the manners from childhood in order not to attract attention at the universities. And no matter how difficult it is for them to study, many get the support they need from home to somehow get by.
So you have to look very carefully. How much easier is it to sum up the very visible group of obviously overwhelmed first-time academics in the lecture halls. At the same time, the lack of plumbers, electricians and the like is lamented – and a connection is made between the two phenomena. Who is demanding that more academic children should lay water pipes or install fuse boxes?
Really fair access to universities, depending on intelligence and suitability, could possibly be achieved through the nationwide introduction of subject-related and standardized entrance examinations at universities. With tests that do not test knowledge, do not reward habitus and cramming discipline, but record the existing problem-solving skills that are appropriate to the discipline.
It’s not about building new barriers to entry. Where you can enroll without numerus clausus, this should also be possible in the future. However, after the mandatory participation in the test, the results of which could then be important feedback and pointers. However, where there is an NC, the results of the exams should be an obligatory entry requirement alongside the Abitur grade.
In addition, the nationwide entrance exams offer a great opportunity for university research: There would finally be a representative overview of the skills of first-year students, broken down according to educational biographies. And the universities would know better where to start in order to overcome social hurdles.
Wouldn’t the same distortions occur in the tests, because the academic children present themselves better and can deal with the stress of exams more easily? Not if the tests are done really well.
And as illusory as all of this may sound, it is not that far from reality: university research has made enormous progress in measuring academic skills. Internationally, subject-related, standardized aptitude tests are widespread, in Germany there have been so-called online self-assessments for a long time. And depending on the subject, for example in psychology, completely new, innovative selection tests have already been developed.
Having them for every course of study and mandatory is certainly a medium-term vision. But why not? The ambitious recommendations that the Science Council has now presented for higher education in the 21st century are also long-term. A good opportunity for a long overdue fundamental debate.