Monday, November 5, 2012

An Appealing Tagline: Come to Germany for a Three Year Bachelor’s Degree

by Mike Nelson

Europe, the most common destination of American college students studying abroad, has been undergoing massive changes to its higher education system because of the Bologna Process. Germany has taken a leadership role in these reforms. In his talk on September 25, Edwin Kreuzer of the Hamburg University of Technology shared some of the exciting and challenging aspects of implementing the Bologna Process in Germany.

Despite the United States not joining the other 47 countries to have signed the Bologna Agreement, the German system of higher education has become strikingly similar to its American counterpart. Currently, 81% of all German programs lead to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, instead of the former German equivalents. The Bachelor’s degree can be earned in three years. Americans and Germans are now focused on the same goal. This should lead to an increase in exchange opportunities and participation in those opportunities by college students. People will be less confused. College administrators should have an easier time accepting transfer credits between similar Bachelor’s degree programs.

On the subject of transferring, it can be a rough process. I transferred from Illinois State to the College of DuPage and then to the University of Illinois (and had to change my allegiance and chanting from Redbirds to Chaparrals to finally “Go Illini!”). In the process, I lost at least four credits. Other classes were evaluated as electives instead of regular classes. The EU is tackling this issue with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). ECTS avoids many headaches for Europeans who wish to transfer credits.

Another important similarity between the American and newly updated German higher education system is the importance placed on a study abroad experience. One goal in the EU is that by 2020 at least 20% of college graduates should have spent a semester abroad. All universities are recognizing the life-changing experience of living in a different country. Study abroad provides the opportunity to learn a new language, understand a different culture, and foster a better relationship between the countries involved. Study abroad also looks great on a resume. (Not everyone agrees. See a controversial Daily Illini article that argued against study abroad.)

The Bologna Process is an example of subsidiarity in the EU. The idea of subsidiarity is to handle various issues at the most localized level of government. The EU, as a form of supranational government, should only govern in areas that cannot be managed at the local, state, or national level. The Bologna Process was established through intergovernmental agreements, and the actual application of the changes was implemented at the local level. In general, the EU tries to avoid interfering in education.

It will be helpful to see more data in the coming years in order to evaluate the Bologna Process. In Germany, there are currently questions of how competitive Bachelor’s degree holders will be on the job market. Also, we will see if the EU meets its study abroad goal by 2020. Either way, the Bologna Process has created a more unified higher education system throughout Europe and beyond.

Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Germany 

Mike Nelson is a first year MAEUS student. He graduated a year early and received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. Mike has studied French, German, and Spanish and will be tackling Swedish starting this fall. He has traveled to Germany and hosted a French foreign exchange student. During the summer, he works as a manager at a water park. He is working as a Graduate Assistant and Teaching Assistant for the European Union Center this year.

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