Öslem Tureci and Uğur Şahin – the founders of BionTech, which, together with Pfizer, pioneered one of the first covid-19 vaccines – are remarkable individuals in a wider sense. While their scientific research and business success, leading to a US$3.6bn net worth, are impressive, their most significant impact will likely be on how immigrants are viewed in German society.
As such they also represent two very different immigrant groups and their path within the German educational system. Whereas Tureci, the daughter of a Turkish surgeon who emigrated to Germany, comes from a rather privileged background, Şahin is the quintessential poster child of a Gastarbeiterkind (child of migrant workers) of the sixties, with a father working at the Ford Motor factory in Cologne.
What both had in common, though, was access to a well-developed and free-of-charge educational system, which helped to create a level playing field and advancement opportunities along with social mobility.
So, how does the German educational system compare globally?
Pretty well, when considering tertiary educational quality and R&D output as outlined in the Global Innovation Index (GII) ranking tables illustrated below.
However, the progress made within advanced education and R&D over the past couple of years is not mirrored in elementary and secondary educational achievement, where the country shows significant gaps and barely ranks in the top 40 (out of 200 countries evaluated).
Drilling down into individual sub-categories, significant funding and staffing issues emerge, in particular with respect to funding levels in general as well as the student-teacher ratio, commonly considered to be key quality drivers for an educational system’s success or failure.