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How are things ten years after Bologna?

About ten years ago, the ambitious changes in higher education thought up in the 1990s went into effect. The old Diplomas and Magister henceforth were switched over to Bachelor and Masters. The biggest reform in higher education in the last hundred years was supposed to ensure that universities degrees were comparable internationally, and improve the usability of those degrees in terms of career. This article will look mainly at three aspects of the declared goals of the Bologna reform:

  • Employability
  • Better standing in the global market
  • Improved mobility of the graduates

 

Employability

 

Now, how are the new graduates received by the companies? The first thing to notice is that for specialist or leadership positions a degree is a must. The reason for this is not always obvious, especially when the ad calls for a “technical, business, or humanities degree”, which usually translates to “we want the candidate to have a degree, but don’t care about the field”. Usually the thought here is that during university studies one has to acquire a different, self-reliant work technique than in a more guided environment like apprenticeships. That skill is necessary for many higher positions, as the freedom at the work place naturally means the person will have to structure and handle the tasks on their own, without outside help, giving the graduates an advantage.

This way of thinking is still based on the old university system, the so called “Humboldt’sche University”. Now, however, the post-Bologna study courses have shown a strong tendency towards becoming rigid and highly structured. That leads to the question how the new graduates are perceived and received by the companies.

 

To find out, we took a sample at a big German job board, searching for jobs with either the keyword “Master” or “Bachelor”. We only looked at full-time jobs.

“Bachelor” had 2,626 hits, “Master” almost a third more, 3,405. That result doesn’t make it look like the Bachelor has become the typical degree to enter into the work force with, as was hoped when Bologna was drafted. The graduates are younger now, which had been one of the demands raised by various business associations, but they’re not exactly sought after. The Bachelor will have a hard time shaking off the “half a diploma” connotation only if the graduates do get their fair chance in the labour market, though.

Improved standing in the international competition

 

The next question to look at is how the new Bachelor and Master degrees compare to those of the Anglo-American system and those in French-speaking countries. How interchangeable are they? According to some OECD studies the reform failed to deliver the hoped for results, which is making it easier for young professionals to move freely between countries.

One example of that failure is that of an engineering degree. The old Germany engineering diploma had an excellent reputation, especially in North America and Japan. It’s different with the new Master of Engineering. As a result, German universities have begun to, for a fee, give out diplomas again whenever some finishes their Master. The Bachelor does not offer that possibility, and gets stuck only slightly above the old intermediate diploma in people’s understanding. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that while Bachelor graduates will be able to find employment, although only at a much lower level with accordingly low entry wages – and that after eight semesters of study.

 

Increased mobility

 

It doesn’t look like graduates are moving around any more than they did ten years ago. In most professions, they tend to stay in their home countries, although that may also be partly due to the good labor market in Germany compared to neighboring countries at the moment. Anyone who wanted to move further away outside the EU could already do that before the reform, especially since the immigration guidelines of for example the US haven’t changed. Only in the medical professions, there’s a significant increase of people moving to the UK. They, however, don’t exactly count as an example for Bologna, as they still require the old state exam and haven’t been switched over to the Bacherlor/Master system yet. For engineers and Economists, the situation doesn’t seem to have changed much.

 

Maybe it’s too early yet to draw final conclusions about this particular goal of the reform was met or not. The future will tell whether the mobility of professionals within Europe and internationally really got a boost.

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