Free Education Must Come with Commitments

Please note that the whole text only applies to students and educations systems where the education is completely free; in this example Germany.

Germany is a country where students enjoy free education. It is true, public education in Germany is completely free. There is a small fee of around 300€ per semester for students but this fee allows them to use public transport for free. According to Eurostat (educ_uoe_fine09) Germany is spending each year around 15.000€ per student on education. If students study on average four years, it costs the state on average 60.000€ per student. This is a great gift from the state which should not come without any commitments.

Taxpayers Fund Free Education

Many students graduate each year from universities in Germany. Students from hundreds of different universities submit their Bachelor, Master, and Ph.D. theses. These students all enjoyed free education for the last years. All their research work is basically paid for by the German taxpayers by pretty much 100%. So how is it possible that nearly none of these theses are available for German taxpayers?

As we have already learned, the German State spends on average 15.000€ per year per student on education. A 4 year bachelor costs 60.000€, a 6 year master costs 90.000€ and a PHD most likely more than 150.000€. Once again the question: how is it possible that all the research work is not publicly available to the funders of these graduates; the taxpayers?

The Copyright Question

Your publications, your intellectual ideas, and your research is your intellectual property, no question about that. But we need to set extremely clear limits to everyone who is benefiting from our free education system. Some students start selling their theses on Amazon others submit it to publishers. In both scenarios, taxpayers need to pay for the research results. Taxpayers are the only reason why our awesome State of Germany is able to offer all our students free education. So why don’t they have free and unlimited access to all research outcomes out of public universities? The tip of the iceberg is that public universities and libraries have to pay (sometimes) hundreds of Euros to buy the books and journals published by researchers which were enjoying the free infrastructure financed by the state.

Private Research is another Story

It is however, another case if students go to private universities where they pay all tuition fees themselves. They have the right to decide themselves whether they would like to publish their work or not. They can decide themselves whether they want to sell their research for 900€ to large corporations or whether they publish it for free. However, this is not true for public students. There should be a law which makes it mandatory for every student, PHD candidate, researcher, and professor to publish their work to a public database.

Online State Library

I, as a German taxpayer, demand an unlimited access to every research outcome which has been financed solely by German taxpayers. Every single paper, document, journal article, book, term paper, and all theses shall be available for free to German taxpayers on a German database at least in digital form.

Pros and Cons of a Public Database

First of all, I want to make clear that I don’t think there is any room for discussion whether this kind of law should be implemented or not. I see it as a right of taxpayers to have access to the work they funded.

Of course, we should discuss a few points where it is not clear whether you can call it an advantage or rather a disadvantage. Free access to research results will mean that companies will be able to access research results for free, for which they otherwise would’ve had to pay a large sum of money.

Secondly, an open database will make our education system vulnerable. Everyone will be able to screen how good or bad the research results are. This might showcase low standards of some universities. However, a mandatory publication will lead in the end to an improvement in research quality. It will also lead to a drop in graduates as universities will start to set higher standards. This might also lead to the fact that students start to challenge themselves to publish a great instead of an average thesis.

Collaboration for our future Success

In the end, an open access to millions of publicly funded research will enable Germany to expand its leadership position in research and innovation. Companies enjoy easier access to crucial research documents they have funded by paying taxes. This might give companies the advantage they need.

Collaboration is more powerful than isolation.

I will try to publish this article in German as soon as possible.

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