Against provincialism : English university would attract best brains to Berlin

Despite the global hype, Berlin can still be a provincial place – especially in higher education. Which is why one of the city's universities should switch to English in order to attract the skilled workers Germany so desperately needs, argues editor Markus Hesselmann.

The future "Technical University of Berlin"?
The future "Technical University of Berlin"?Foto: dapd

Studying in Britain – for Shanti Behari Seth it would have been an obvious choice, as for many young, educated Indians. He was connected to the country through a cultural network based on family ties. And because of its colonial ties to India, he would have had an easy time with the language.

Seth's family were not poor, but they were not rich enough to fund his preferred choice of studying in England. The young man opted instead for Berlin, although he could not speak a word of German and had been told the Germans were a harsh and not altogether welcoming people.

On his first night in the German capital he got hopelessly lost, mixing up Charlottenburg and Friedrichstraße train stations. But a passerby helped the confused young man and explained to him “in perfect English” where he needed to go. A good start in the strange city.

The story played out in 1931 and is taken from Vikram Seth's epic double biography “Two Lives", about his Indian great-uncle and his German-Jewish wife.

What offers itself as a model of great literature, because dramatic historical and personal developments are told through these two characters, could – and should – finally become an everyday occurrence in Berlin: Immigration from parts of the world traditionally connected with 20th century European colonial powers, whose people still prefer to move to big cities in their own countries.

And despite complaints over rising rents and gentrification, life in Berlin today is still much cheaper than in London. That could be one argument for families from those countries' growing middle classes to send their children over here to study rather than to the UK.

Germany needs more immigration, more people to work as skilled employees in companies, more people who start their own businesses, more people to pay into the country's pension fund.

With its global attractiveness and high living standards, Berlin above everywhere else in Germany is best placed in the fight for the world's brightest brains. It is not enough for Berlin to attract artists and creatives. The city needs technicians and business types if it is going to progress economically.

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