German education minister quits over plagiarism row



Berlin: Germany's education minister on Saturday resigned after a university decided to withdraw her doctorate, finding that she plagiarised parts of her thesis an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government as it prepares for elections later this year.

Merkel said she had accepted "only with a very heavy heart" the resignation of Annette Schavan, who has been her education and research minister since 2005 and was considered close to the chancellor.

On Tuesday, Duesseldorf's Heinrich Heine University decided to revoke Schavan's doctorate following a review of her 1980 thesis, which dealt with the formation of conscience.

The review was undertaken after an anonymous blogger last year raised allegations of plagiarism, which the minister denies.

"I will not accept this decision; I neither copied nor deceived in my dissertation," she told reporters, speaking alongside Merkel at a brief news conference. "The accusations ... Hurt me deeply."

Schavan made it clear that she was going to prevent the issue turning into a festering problem for her party, and the government, as Germany gears up for parliamentary elections on September 22 in which the conservative Merkel will seek a third term.

Schavan, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, announced her decision after returning from an official trip to South Africa during which, she said, she thought "thoroughly about the political consequences".

Merkel offered lengthy praise of Schavan's "exceptional" performance as a minister, adding that "at this time, she is putting her own personal well-being behind the common good".

Schavan will be replaced by Johanna Wanka, the outgoing regional education minister in the state of Lower Saxony, Merkel said.

Schavan's resignation comes two years after then-Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg lost his doctorate and quit when it emerged that he copied large parts of his doctoral thesis.

Doctorates are highly prized in Germany, where it is not unusual for people to insist on being referred to by their full academic title.

PTI