Here's the NYTimes story about the many ways the German higher ed system resembles its American counterpart. This caught my eye:
Classrooms have been overcrowded — and standards have slipped — since the 1970’s, when Germany began guaranteeing that any graduate of a gymnasium, the more academically rigorous part of the high school system, was entitled to a place in a university, paid for entirely by the state. [Emphasis added]
While on the subject of universities, here's something about universities in Sweden.
... Oxford and Cambridge have always compared themselves with one another, just as have American universities like Harvard, Yale, Colombia and Princeton. In many European countries the universities have, however, primarily been judged on the basis of age and distinction, and here the opposition to quality assessments has been stronger.
In Sweden too there are examples of hierarchies. Establishment and positioning has occurred in fits and starts, which is demonstrated by the progress of Stockholm University within advanced scientific research, at the expense of Uppsala. Linköping University has over recent years, and against a background of weaker resources and repute than the older universities, developed new forms of teaching and research.
Hmmm. Why stop with Germany and Sweden. Here's another NYTimes story from May 2006. This time, its about the French university system.
... The country's university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor's degree plummeted.
But the state failed to invest much in buildings, facilities and professors' salaries to make the system work. Today the French government allocates about $8,500 a year to each university student, about 40 percent less than what it invests in each high school student.
Most students are required to attend the universities closest to their high schools. ...
Coming back to the article about the Swedish universities, it has this (among much else) to say on American universities:
... American universities, especially the private universities, have almost endless resources to make their own major investments in new fields of science. The American state, which has otherwise sold itself to laissez-faire, has always had a generous relationship to technological and scientific development, as support of this kind has favoured defence and security interests (and acted as a concealed support for industry). This knowledge mercantilism has, in combination with a generous donation culture, created the prerequisites for an extremely strong and dynamic university sector. ...