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Challenging German system starts legal debate

A light has been shone on the German system of accreditation for academic degree programmes following Brunel research questioning its legal standing.

Decisions taken by actors within the controversial system, used to determine accreditation at more than 400 higher education institutions in Germany, are considered private law matters.

However, research by Christian Heitsch from Brunel Law School has called into question whether accreditation agencies’ activities should in fact be designated as public law matters instead.

This would give affected universities recourse to judicial review in the inquisitorial administrative courts rather than the civil courts, with the former more likely to put in place meaningful limitations on the powers of accreditation agencies.

The legal reasoning behind the research has since been cited in several of the country’s judicial rulings, while the study has featured widely in highly-regarded German law journals, including Rechtsnatur der Akkreditierungsentscheidungen/Prozessuale Fragen, 2009.

Heitsch’s research is recognised as the first thorough investigation into the issue of the German system of accreditation and is likely to lead to cost savings for academic institutions because the current private law system takes staff away from their main roles of teaching and research.