As pay scandals continue to embarrass British higher education, with university chiefs receiving eye-watering salaries and golden handshakes, it’s time to ask: why can’t we be more like Germany?

A scandal erupted there a few years ago when the vice-chancellor of Cologne University increased his salary from €78,876 (£69,403) a year in 2006 to €133,781 in 2012. In 2014 a table revealing this was leaked, prompting outrage. Since then top salaries in German universities have been held in check. Germany is far from perfect, but we can only wish we had its problems.

Vice-chancellors’ pay has soared since the introduction of £9,000 annual tuition fees in England, and significant fees throughout the UK, except for Scottish students studying in Scotland. Meanwhile, in Germany, where universities are supported through general taxation and there are no fees, vice-chancellors seem to survive on relatively modest remuneration. Globally, the US has the highest senior pay levels in universities – and a large student debt bubble. As in Britain, the richest students in America do not take out loans; instead their parents pay up front. Is this a system to emulate?

In 1995 some 732,000 babies were born in the UK and 765,000 in Germany – just 33,000 more. And yet 21 years later, in 2016, in Britain there were 2.28 million students at higher education institutions, of whom 1.75 million were undergraduates. In Germany in 2016 there were 2.81 million students – 530,000 more than in the UK. Of these German students, 1.78 million were at traditional universities and another 0.96 million at universities of applied sciences. The number of German students rose by almost a million in the 20 years to 2016.

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