How does it feel to get a master’s degree?

equal opportunity: It feels strange

Working-class children are still a minority at German universities. Why do so few choose to study?


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An autumn morning in Munich, a few days before the start of the new semester. Jessica Feichtmayr, 23 years old, is sitting on a cardboard stool in a student café. "Dreams may happen" emblazoned in white letters on her shirt. Feichtmayr drinks her cappuccino and looks out the window. The imposing main building of the Ludwig Maximilians University stands diagonally opposite. Feichtmayr says: "Sometimes I still have to rub my eyes." She, the working class child, didn't just make it into the classroom. It also stayed in, Pedagogy, soon to be in the fifth semester. In a year she will have her bachelor's degree. "In Germany, absurdly, it's still a sensation."

The student with the keen eye knows the numbers: out of 100 children whose parents have not studied, 21 go to university, 15 do a bachelor's degree, eight do a master's degree, and only one is doing a doctorate. That shows University education report, a study by the Stifterverband and the management consultancy McKinsey. Every second young person studies; only workers' children are in the blatant minority. For comparison: out of 100 children with at least one parent who has studied, 74 go to university, 63 do a bachelor's degree, 45 do a master's degree and ten do a doctorate. And the study compares 100 working-class children with 100 academic children. In reality, however, there are far more families in which the parents have not studied. Taking that into account, the ratio is five to one.

It is well known that screening takes place in elementary school. "In the third grade, my teacher said to my mother that I was stupid," remembers Feichtmayr. The mother, a single parent, in her early thirties, secondary school leaving certificate, could not do anything about it. The also shows that educational opportunities in Germany still depend heavily on social origin Opportunity level, a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Equal opportunities are making steady, but very slow progress.

What is less well known: For working-class children like Jessica Feichtmayr, sifting doesn't stop at the university door, and it almost seems to be a kind of self-selection. Not even every second high school graduate from a working-class family goes to university, 95 percent of those with a university entrance qualification. Ludger Wößmann, head of the Ifo Center for the Economics of Education and professor at the Ludwig Maximilians University, tries to find out why this is the case; Since the beginning of the year he has been responsible for a research project together with colleagues at the Berlin Science Center. One thing is already clear: there are both financial and psychological barriers that keep working-class children with high school diplomas away from universities.

The former is surprising at first, because thanks to student loans and a zero tuition fee policy, studying in hardly any other country is as inexpensive as it is in Germany. The example of Patrick Schnitzer, 27, shows why money remains a factor. Starting in the winter semester, he will study law and computer science at the LMU Munich. Schnitzer is the son of a master painter, his mother fled Bosnia during the Balkan War and has no professional training. Patrick Schnitzer is a trained roofer, with the master craftsman's certificate he also acquired the university entrance qualification. His parents cannot support him, and he is already feeling financial pressure before his studies have even started. The first Bafög transfer will not land in his account on the first day of the semester, but a few weeks later. That’s the way it is. In addition, the payments are linked to the standard period of study; he has to repay part of it after the end of the course. "What if I need longer? Or don't graduate? Or can't find a job straight away?" Asks Schnitzer.



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Jessica Feichtmayr is also familiar with financial barriers. She grew up in the Munich area, a younger sister, the mother a trained retail saleswoman, today she works in a laundry. She raised the children alone; there was no contact with the father, a car mechanic; he died when daughter Jessica was 16 years old. Money was always tight. There were also clothes from Aldi. After secondary school, Feichtmayr trained as a dental assistant. "My mother saw that as the - very, very good! - end point of my educational career." When her daughter considered quitting the well-paid job, catching up on her high school diploma - she had obtained secondary school leaving certificate through training - and going to university, it was absolutely incomprehensible to the mother.

Equal Opportunities for Working Children?


One percent of working-class children do a doctorate.

There are ten times as many for university graduates

Starting salary

There is an average of 1,400 euros net per month after an apprenticeship and 2,750 euros after studying

"This is an attitude that we know from behavioral economics," says Woessmann. "Today's lower income is preferred to tomorrow's higher income." Better to have a sparrow in hand than a pigeon on the roof. After all, there are initially costs for studying, and even more: debts are incurred. Anyone who, like Schnitzer and Feichtmayr, knows what a life feels like when every cent has to be turned over twice, shrinks from it.

Another factor: working-class parents and children have no family role models. You don't know the pigeon. The parents' generation in particular often has wrong ideas. Jessica Feichtmayr, for example, still hears from her family today that she should get a taxi license while studying. "Of course it hurts," she says. She knows that there is another way: your best friend comes from an academic family, so there is a large portion of interest and understanding with coffee and cake.