How does privatization affect the education system

How privatization is expanding in the education sector

To avoid any misunderstanding: The GEW neither demonizes nor fights private educational institutions. Nor does it question the sometimes very good educational quality of the work done there. Private or “independent” schools - for example church-run schools, reform-pedagogical schools or boarding schools - have always existed, the school landscape could live with them quite well. They are even provided for in the Basic Law - under certain conditions - as part of the school system, are under state supervision and are therefore entitled to financial support. For a long time, however, private schools only played a marginal role. The GEW is very critical of the fact that their number is growing from year to year. Because: More and more private schools are exacerbating the already highly unequal distribution of educational opportunities. It becomes even more precarious when - as has been the case in previous years - increasingly private-sector providers force their way into this “market” and the school system becomes a testing ground for profit-oriented and commercial interests. This does not really work in Germany, here commercial desires stand in the way of laws and regulations. But a look at other countries like the United States, Great Britain or even Sweden shows what is possible. For example, that companies take over the entire school operation, or that private school chains outsource various services, personnel planning and management to related commercial companies.

The GEW therefore considers it necessary to monitor developments closely and to draw attention to undesirable developments. School has a societal integration mandate, which states, for example, that all children in school should be able to learn how to deal with plurality. The social division must therefore be stopped. To protect the public school as a whole, to protect equal opportunities and cohesion. The public school system has a high value in a democratic society.

Structure of the educational offer according to sponsorship

In the report “Education in Germany 2014”, jointly commissioned by the federal and state governments, an inventory was presented for the fifth time, depicting the German education system from early childhood education, care and upbringing to the various forms of further training in adulthood. The basic information, which is used in the following, provides an overview of the development of the institutional structure of the educational landscape in Germany. For the Hamburg-specific data, the third Hamburg education report from 2014 is used, which gives an overview of the general conditions of the Hamburg education system.

The around 96,000 educational institutions of the formal education sector in Germany were visited by almost 17 million participants in 2012. This means that around 3,000 fewer educational institutions were counted than in 1998 (-3%), when the decline in birth rates in eastern Germany that began after unification had not yet affected the school sector. Compared to 2010, the year of the last education report, the number of educational institutions has increased by almost 900 (0.9%).

The educational infrastructure has been adapted to both demographic developments and the changed demand for education over the past two decades. This has led to opposing developments in the various educational areas: In the elementary sector, for example, the number of day-care centers has increased due to the expansion of the educational offer for under 3-year-olds, while the decline in pupils and school structure reforms have led to a significant decrease in the number of general schools since 1998. In the higher education sector, on the other hand, the number of institutions has increased by 112 or 24% since 1998.

General and vocational schools as well as universities are predominantly publicly owned, but in many places the public educational offer is increasingly being supplemented or partially replaced by privately owned institutions. The scope of the educational offer in private ownership differs - also legally and historically - between the educational areas.

The increase in the number of independent educational institutions across all educational areas, which was already noted in the 2012 Education Report, continues. This increase is particularly strong in the area of ​​universities. In the field of general education schools, too, there has been a sharp increase in the number of privately owned institutions over the past decade. This is especially true for elementary schools and schools with multiple courses of study. The number of privately owned primary schools in West Germany has more than doubled since 1998 and almost sixfold in East Germany. Despite this increase, independent educational institutions still play a smaller role in Germany, especially in the school sector, than in many other countries.

The number of public educational institutions has declined across all areas of education, particularly sharply in the area of ​​general education schools, the number of which has fallen by more than 9,000 (23%) since 1998. School closings and amalgamations particularly affected East Germany, where the number of public general education schools fell by 46%. A similar development can be seen for the number of participants. Here, too, an increase in the number of participants in private educational institutions goes hand in hand with a decline in the number of participants in public institutions. The only exception is the higher education sector.

Day care centers

The development of the provider landscape in Germany continues to be characterized by a percentage decrease in the number of children in public institutions and thus an increasing relevance of independent providers (Fig. 1). However, there are also shifts within the free carriers. Among the offers for under 3-year-olds, the proportion of denominational providers has increased from 21 to 27% across Germany since 2006; in the case of offers for 3 to under 6-year-olds, however, their share fell slightly to 41%. Offers from private-sector organizations and day-care centers for the children of employees continue to play no significant role.

At the end of 2012 there were 1,043 day-care centers in Hamburg in the day-care voucher system. They care for 56,226 children in the nursery and elementary sector. The Elbkinder Vereinigung Hamburger Kitas gGmbH is the daycare provider that looks after by far the largest number of children. Almost a third of all children in care attend day care centers run by the association. However, the association's market share has decreased slightly since 2009. In particular, the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband Hamburg e.V. and the 116 non-association organizations are recording increasing market shares. It is noticeable that especially those associations and non-association organizations are expanding that tend to run small daycare centers.

In roughly the same period, the number of day-care centers in elementary schools has also increased significantly. While there were a total of 357 preschool classes at state and private primary schools in the 2009/10 school year, in the 2013/14 school year there were already 444 classes in which 8,198 preschoolers learn and play. Virtually all state primary schools set up preschool classes. There are seven more pre-school classes at special schools, which are attended by a total of 66 children.

General and vocational schools

The private school boom continues nationwide. The National Education Report 2014 underlines this impressively. Accordingly, there were 3,500 general private schools nationwide in the 2012/2013 school year. That was 1,294 more than in 1998/1999, an increase of 58 percent. In 2012, every tenth school was privately owned. In addition to primary schools (+ 32%), the most significant increases since 2006 are recorded by types of schools with several courses of education (+ 135%) and, above all, integrated comprehensive schools (+ 283%). Nevertheless - apart from schools of the second educational pathway - the special school with 19% and the grammar school with 14% are most often privately owned. [1] Vocational private schools are also on the rise. From 1998/1999 to 2012/2013 the number of private vocational schools nationwide increased from 1,619 to 2,151. This corresponds to an increase of 32.8 percent. [2]

Hamburg had a total of 413 general education schools in the 2013/14 school year. 339 of these are state schools. The decline in the number of state primary schools since the 2010/11 school year is related to school mergers. The decline in the total number of state schools between the 2012/13 school year and the 2013/14 school year is due to the establishment of regional education and advice centers (ReBBZ), in which special schools and regional advice and support centers (REBUS) have been merged. Non-state general education schools are currently attended by 19,838 pupils (10.6%). Their share of the total student body has remained largely constant over the last five school years.

The vocational schools are not recorded in the education report, but are included in the HIBB annual report 2014. There, in turn, only the state, but not the private vocational schools are dealt with. Around 52,000 students study and work at the 44 vocational schools of the HIBB. An overview of the relationship between state and private vocational schools is therefore reserved for further research.


In the 2012/13 winter semester there were almost 400 state and state-recognized universities in Germany. Around 100 new universities have been added since the winter semester 1995/96, in particular many universities of applied sciences were founded privately. In essence, the increase is due to the expansion of the private sector (Fig. 1). Among the privately owned universities of applied sciences are in particular many distance universities and universities of applied sciences whose limited range of courses is specially tailored to the qualification needs of the economy and those interested in studying. [3]

Of the 20 state and state-recognized universities in Hamburg, twelve are privately owned. The youngest private universities are the Hamburg-recognized MSH Medical School Hamburg, the Euro Business College Hamburg (EBC), the Brand Academy - University for Design and Communication, and the Kühne Logistics University - Scientific University for Logistics and Management. [4]

Limits to privatization: vocational schools

Everything began with the "Jesteburg Decision". [5] Members of the Hamburg Senate met in May 2002 in Jesteburg, a small town south of Hamburg. At that time it was provided by the CDU, FDP and Schill party. The Senate members decided to privatize the public vocational schools in the Hanseatic city. A non-profit foundation under public law should take over the sponsorship of the BBS - "and also make school-relevant decisions". This is how Professor Dieter Sterzel from the University of Oldenburg sums it up. At that time, Hamburg's Senate planned to transfer the decision-making powers of the school authorities to the foundation's board of trustees. Business representatives should be in charge there.

The Jesteburg decision met with fierce opposition. GEW, teachers, staff councils and many parents started a referendum against the privatization of vocational schools. [6] “Education is not a commodity,” was the name of the campaign. A great success: By September 2004, 120,985 women and men signed, the first hurdle had been overcome. Professor Dieter Sterzel examined where the constitutional limits of school privatization lie. The report, prepared on behalf of the GEW-affiliated Max Traeger Foundation, comes to the conclusion: The Hamburg foundation model violates the Basic Law, Article 7, Paragraph 1. According to this, the state has “the original right” to organize the public school system. This design includes "not only the organizational structure of the school", but also "the definition of the content of the training courses and teaching objectives," writes Sterzel. There remains “constitutionally no room” to organize parts of the state school supervision “on the basis of functional self-governing institutions.” This also includes foundations. Sterzel also objects to a "violation of the principle of democracy", which is anchored in the Basic Law, in Article 20, Paragraph 2 and Article 28, Paragraph 1. He refers to the "factually unjustified over-representation" of business representatives in the foundation's board of trustees. This is a "privilege of special social interests" and violates the "principle of neutrality of state decisions". According to Professor Sterzel, however, what the Hanseatic City of Bremen was planning at the time is in accordance with the Basic Law. The Bremen Senate planned to privatize only the school-related infrastructure tasks. According to the plan, a GmbH will in future provide support in the IT area as well as in procurement for the school administration. It should also take care of school management, i.e. compliance with the objectives set by the Bremen Education Senator. Sterzel sees no violation of the principle of democracy here either.

And how did it go in Hamburg? In February 2004 there were new elections, from now on the CDU provided the Senate alone. Under the pressure of the referendum, he dropped the foundation model. We will tell the story of the HIBB elsewhere.

[1] See Education in Germany 2014, pp. 68ff

[2] See Privatization Report 16, p. 14

[3] See Education in Germany 2014, p. 120

[4] As of July 24, 2015,

[5] This paragraph is slightly changed and taken from the Privatization Report 11, p. 42 ff.

[6] on this and the following: Dieter Sterzel: Denationalization of the vocational schools. Constitutional limits to the privatization of the school as a place of learning in the dual system of vocational training. Legal opinion, submitted on behalf of the Max Traeger Foundation, as well as, 8.2.2010

Photo: GEW privatization report 5