Boards of Western universities are full of active politicians
Brussels is applying a double standard in the case of Hungarian universities run by foundations. While the European Commission is requiring academic institutions in Hungary to be independent of the government and is punitively locking out students from the Erasmus programme, it is an accepted common practice in universities throughout the EU that politicians, ministers, and even MEPs sit on their supervisory boards and boards of trustees.
Numerous German and Austrian politicians take up secondary positions in higher education while in political office, Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet reports. The German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported in 2013 that
Heiko Maas, the minister for economic affairs of the Saarland, was also an alternate member of the supervisory board of the Saarland University Hospital. Also on the board of the university clinic were Stephan Toscani, the finance minister of the Saarland, and Andreas Storm, the minister of the Social Affairs, Health, Women and Family Ministry.
The current members of the university clinic’s board of trustees include several state politicians, such as Ministry of Finance and Science State Secretary Wolfgang Forster, and Dr Magnus Jung, the minister for labour, society, women and health.
The situation is similar in the leaderships of several other German universities. Members of the supervisory board of the Dresden University Clinic include
Sebastian Gemkow, state minister for science, culture and tourism, Dagmar Neukirch, state secretary of the Ministry for Social Affairs and Social Cohesion, and Hartmut Vorjohann, finance minister of the Saxon State Government. The CDU’s MEP Andreas Schwab is also member of the advisory board of the University of Freiburg.
The board of trustees of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich includes the chairman of the Bavarian Parliament’s Committee for Science and the Arts, Robert Brannekamper, Bavarian Parliament Vice President Dr Wolfgang Heubisch, the deputy leader of the Greens in the Bavarian Landtag, Verena Osgyan, as well as Bavaria Education Minister Michael Piazolo, Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter and Markus Rinderspracher, who is also vice president of the Bavarian Landtag.
Markus Blume, the Bavarian minister for science and the arts, sits on the supervisory board of the University Clinic of the Ludwig-Maximilian University. The Bavarian Council of Ministers is represented on the board by Dr Burkhard von Urff, Dr Tobias Haumer and Dr Vitus Gamperl.
The members of the board of trustees of the Technical University of Munich include CSU MEP Angelika Niebler, Bavarian Landtag Vice Chair Dr Wolfgang Heubisch, Dr Sabine Jarothe, head of the State Ministry for Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy, and the mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter.
The members of the Board of Trustees of the University of Regensburg include the mayor of Regensburg, Gertrud Maltz-Schwarzfischer, as well as Landtag Members Jurgen Mistol, Dr Stephan Oetzinger and Margit Wild.
The board of trustees of the University of Siegen includes not only the mayor of Siegen, Steffen Mues, but also Landtag Member Anke Furchs-Dreisbach, as well as Bundestag Members Volkmar Klein, Laura Kraft and Luiza Licina-Bode.
Landau Mayor Thomas Hirschis is a member of the Koblenz-Landau University Board of Governors along with Koblenz Mayor David Langner. Other members of the board include Landtag Members Dr Anna Kobberling, Dr Katrin Rehak-Nitsche and Dr Adolf Weiland.
Two members of the Berlin Senate, Ulrike Gote and Armaghan Naghipour, also sit on the board of trustees of the Berlin University of Technology.
The board of trustees of the Friedrich Alexander University includes Joachim Herrmann, Bavarian state minister of the Interior, Sport and Integration Ministry, and the mayor of Erlangen, Dr Florian Janik, the mayor of Furth, Dr Thomas Jung, the mayor of Nuremberg, Marcus Konig and Bundestag Member Stefan Muller.
Among the members of the board of trustees of the University of Wurzburg are Dr. Winfried Bausback, Kerstin Celina, Volkmar Halbleib, as well as Gerald Pittner, all members of the State Parliament, and Dorothea Bar, member of the Bundestag. Snadro Kirchner, state secretary of the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, is also a member of the board.
The members of the board of trustees of the University of Augsburg include Bavarian Landtag Members Johannes Hintersberger, Dr. Beate Merk, Alfred Sauter and Dr. Simone Strohmayr, as well as Bundestag MPs Dr. Volker Ullrich and Claudia Roth, who is not only a member of the Bundestag but also the federal minister of the Ministry for Culture and Media in the Scholz cabinet. Another member of the board of trustees is Klaus Holetschek, Bavarian state minister of the Ministry of Health and Care.
The University of Trier Board of Trustees also includes three MPs of the Rhineland-Palatinate Parliament, namely Lars Rieger, Sven Teuber and Marco Weber.
Monika Hohlmeier, MEP delegated by CSU, and Heidrun Piwernetz, president of the state government of Upper Franconia, are members of the board of trustees of the University of Bayreuth.
The 2016 documents of the private university of the state-recognised German Fachhochschule des Mittelstands shows that the board of trustees included not only the then Bundestag member Lena Strothman, but also the ex-MEP Elmar Brok, who has been embroiled in a corruption scandal.
The Hungarian portal Magyar Nemzet finds it also noteworthy that
in Austria, a part of university councils are appointed by the federal government on the recommendation of the minister for education, science and research. The appointments to university senates often involve people who hold positions in the federal or provincial governments.
In 2022, the government appointed Angelika Schatz, head of Department I of the Ministry of Finance, and Dr Matthias Vogl, head of Department III of the Ministry of the Interior, to the senate of the University of Innsbruck.The Ministry for European and International Affairs Management Department Head Sigrid Berka has been appointed by the Federal Government to the senate of the University of Klagenfurt. Martina Hollbacher has been appointed to the Senate for Continuing Education of the University of Krems while she is also head of the Lower Austrian government’s department for science and research.
The practice criticised in the case of Hungary is also well known in the Baltic region.
Estonian Socialist MEP Marina Kaljurand’s CV shows that she has been a member of the board of trustees of the University of Tallinn since 2019, in addition to her work as an MEP. She has been a trustee since 2010, while she served as Estonia’s foreign minister between 2015 and 2016 and as state secretary of the ministry between 2014 and 2015.
At a rhetorical level, there are no exceptions, but the EU Education Commissioner Mariya Gabriel did not deny that only Hungary would be punished regarding the Erasmus programme. When asked how it is possible that active politicians sit on the boards of trustees of universities in other EU member states and those are not penalised by the Commission, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said she did not believe there were any double standards.