UK needs more German students

Germany’s victory at the World Cup was interesting in the sense that most people in the UK reacted to it positively – a great sign of a thawing in attitudes towards Germany in the UK; a shift ongoing since Germany hosted the tournament in 2006.

Yet it also saw an increase in appalling mispronunciations of German words and general misunderstandings of the country itself in the media. One commentator suggested Germany’s anthem is still called “Deutschland über alles” (a phrase whose basic meaning is misunderstood anyway); there was a whole discussion about a “specific German word” to describe the process of taking a penalty in a shoot-out (in fact Nervenstärke merely means “strength of nerve”); and there was constant reference to Angela Merkel as “Head of State” (she is equivalent of Prime Minister, i.e. Head of Government; the President and Head of State, who was also in attendance at the final, is Joachim Gauck).

It would be helpful, first off, if we simply understood more about what is a highly influential country. For example, the Nazis actually replaced “Deutschland über alles” with their own anthem; many “specific German words” merely derive from the German tendency to put words together in writing; and Merkel’s and Gauck’s rise to prominence both involve astonishing scandals the latter of which, in particular, offers a particular challenge to German democracy (the removal of Christian Wulff, Gauck’s predecessor who was forced to resign for a number of minor alleged misdemeanours hinted at by certain elements in the media but all of which were then thrown out in court, was a fascinating disgrace challenging the whole concept of privacy and the free press).

Of course, it would be easier to understand the country if we spoke its language. Here, the disgrace lies firmly in the UK. Fewer students took German A-Level in the UK this year than took it at Higher Level in Ireland – in other words, more Irish students (in total, not proportionately) speak reasonable German than in the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. This is scary; for a start, it makes Ireland a vastly more attractive trading partner for Europe’s largest economy.

We need to do more to understand Germany better; and not just for the sake of our football teams!

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2 thoughts on “UK needs more German students

  1. Ian – some interesting thoughts and observations. Undoubtedly the UK needs more German students – unfortunately this will never happen in reality. Realistically, up to £ 9000 in annual tuition fees (although means tested) at British universities will entice very few German students to even go near the British Isles – particularly with the majority of first class academic education being offered for free in Germany (as you will know – it has always rightfully followed the approach of the Humboldtsches Bildungsideal – with only a few minor exceptions over the years) What the UK and NI really need is plenty of more UK students & UK citizens going to Germany instead (which thankfully now is happening to a much larger extent). There has been quite a dramatic change in perception among (German) scholars in the past ten years or so. Frighteningly it seems that many British people are unaware of this development. Oftentimes Britain is now regarded as the stubborn and immature playground bully that nobody wants to take anything to do with. Other (German) scholars in my close proximity are very vocal with that opinion and they certainly do not advise any German student to go to the UK for studies. Without undue over generalisation – before attempting to understand the manifold ways in which Germany works very differently including attempts to simply copy the German model (Brit. Labour Party members were sent to Germany recently ‘to explore’ the German banking system, which is very different to the UK system in that a.o. it constitutes a number of entirely different approaches and emphasises upon a broader spectrum of reciprocal wealth generation, or with regards to the rather significant socio-political, constitutionally enshrined Länderfinanzausgleich) – I believe it would be a good start to analyse, understand and address some of the really important political and economic issues in the UK and NI first, which recurrently culminate in an incredible ‘Tohuwabohu’ (especially in NI). This does not seem to be happening to the extent that it should be happening. Since more German students cannot be attracted – the British mind-set re. Germany requires (some serious) reflection. Unfortunately this cannot only be achieved through successful world cup tournaments.

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