There is a lot of activity in the corridors of the time-honored mansion. Young adults, elegantly dressed, walk across the creaking parquet floor. Ilona Renken-Olthoff proudly leads through the imposing building that was built for the merchant Friedrich Christian Correns at the beginning of the twentieth century and later inhabited by the Siemens family of entrepreneurs.

The villa has 80 rooms with 3700 square meters of living space and is surrounded by a 27,000 square meter park. The private university BSP Business School Berlin has been located here since 2012: Ilona Renken-Olthoff from Hamburg is its managing director.

Private universities have a short tradition in Germany

Anyone who can afford the tuition fees of 590 euros per month can choose from various Bachelor and Master courses, for example business administration, business psychology or fashion journalism. If you believe Ilona Renken-Olthoff, then the investment is worth it: “Our graduates go to large companies, accounting firms or management consultancies,” she says. In contrast to the United States, private universities in Germany do not have a long tradition. Although their number is increasing, the market share is still small. According to the Federal Statistical Office, a total of 2.9 million people were enrolled in Germany at the beginning of the 2019/20 winter semester.

Of these, only 230 197 studied at private universities – this corresponds to a share of 7.9 percent. The number of school leavers with university entrance qualifications has been increasing steadily for decades. According to a long-term study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, the quota of qualified students increased from 36.5 to 51 percent between 1995 and 2017. In Berlin from 36.8 to 61.5 percent, and in Brandenburg from 36.8 to 56.2 percent. But the capacities of state universities are limited in many courses. A numerus clausus often cap the number of available places.

Prejudice: Parents’ money is crucial

In contrast to the state, private universities determine their admission criteria themselves. Among other things, the BSP Business School Berlin conducts a “structured interview” with interested parties, says Renken-Olthoff. The process is very individual. Around ten to 20 percent of the applicants would be rejected, she estimates.

Formal reasons are often decisive, such as a lack of language skills. The entrepreneur vehemently rejects the prejudice that at private universities only the money of the parents decides and not the performance of the high school graduates. “Some students found their own companies while still studying,” she says.

The university supports this. It regularly invites business representatives who report on their practical experience. “Entrepreneurship is also about courage and the will to persevere,” says Ilona Renken-Olthoff, speaking from experience.

Renken-Olthoff operates several universities of applied sciences

She has not studied economics. Actually, she wanted to study medicine. But in the GDR she was not allowed to do this for political reasons. Renken-Olthoff became a German teacher and in 1986 applied to leave the country to emigrate to the West. In early 1989, this was also approved. It has operated several universities of applied sciences since the 1990s.

Her son studied at a private business school in Potsdam in 2009, she says. When this came into crisis, Renken-Olthoff bought it without further ado. At the end of 2012, this university moved to the Lankwitz Villa, since then it has been called Business School Berlin.

In addition, there was the Medical School Berlin, which offers various health sciences and a psychology degree. Another medical school in Hamburg’s “HafenCity” has been able to offer human medicine with a state examination since 2019.

And from the coming winter semester, the new HMU Medical School Potsdam in Brandenburg will start its first aspiring doctors – for 1,500 euros tuition fees per month. The standard period of study is six years and three months. There is an enormous shortage of medical professionals in Berlin and Brandenburg.

A medical degree for 1670 euros per month

But if you want to become a doctor, you often have to wait a long time for a place at a state university – like the Berlin Charité. Even those who have a very good high school diploma. The Charité offers studies in human medicine together with the Humboldt University and the Free University.

However, according to Charité, the three universities had only 327 places in the first semester in the 2019/20 winter semester. The Brandenburg Medical School (MHB) is the only private educational institution in the region to offer medical degrees in Neuruppin. According to their website, this costs 125,000 euros, i.e. around 1670 euros per month.

Many high school graduates who want to become medical doctors move abroad. At the Medical University in Wroclaw, Poland, for example, you can study in English for a total of 300,000 zlotys (about 71,155 euros). There are also numerous offers that are explicitly aimed at Germans, for example in Hungary and Romania, often in cooperation with German hospitals.

She is the boss. Ilona Renken-Olthoff has concentrated on private universities. Only four of them across Germany are allowed to …Photo: Kitty Kleist-Heinrich

The private university EDU in Malta even offers online medical studies. However, such offers do not necessarily lead to the German approbation that most are concerned with. Foreign degrees are often not recognized. Renken-Olthoff’s medical degree programs are approved under German law, both in Hamburg and in Potsdam. “It was extremely important to me,” she says.

“The students should have a guarantee that they will get a license after graduation.” However, it was not that easy. The registration process for her Medical School Hamburg took eight years. Things went faster in Potsdam.

State-of-the-art technology

The application was submitted to the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture Brandenburg in January 2018 and approved in November 2019. A concept review by the Science Council of the federal and state governments is decisive for admission. “The experts are mainly scientists from state medical faculties,” says Renken-Olthoff.

Private universities would perceive this as competition and would therefore take a close look. The HMU Potsdam is not quite there yet. “So far, only concept accreditation has been carried out,” says Alice Dechêne, a consultant at the Science Council. The actual accreditation process will be initiated no earlier than three years after the establishment of the university and will include a two-day inspection.

The HMU students will learn with the latest technology: corpses are no longer dissected, but the treatments on the human body are simulated with 3-D models. There is also direct patient contact – in the municipal clinic “Ernst von Bergmann”, which cooperates with the private university.

Renken-Olthoff also wants prospective doctors to think outside the box and learn, for example, together with health economists. Because health care is also about economy.


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