Thursday, June 10, 2010

German University System Is Changing

June 9, 2010

Nicole Sauer of the Department for International and EU Relations of the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Baden Wuettemberg gave a presentation about the higher education system in BW. One of the interesting issues she addressed was the structure of the Arbitur, or the exit exam for those students on the Gymnasium track. These tests are centrally administered, take the form of three written and one oral exam, and are graded by a committee consisting of student’s teachers and a member of the Kultus Ministerium. To pass this test with at least a four (1-6 is the grading with the 1 being the best), opens up most areas of study at the university except those defined by the “Numerus Clausus” such as law and medicine which have a limited number of slots and which require a certain high passing grade.

Other interesting aspects of the system are the title reserved to PhD granting research institutions. Only these may use the phrase Universitäten, although many technical Hochschule use the word University in their English names. Another aspect of the system were the so-called Duale Hochschule which are for students to be employed at German firms. These firms (for instance Daimler Benz) would contract with this school to help pay the education. The students alternate between three months of on-the-job training with three months of theoretical training at the Hochschule. Also remember that the term Studenten is reserved to College age students and that a Hochschule connotes a college, not a high school. High school and younger students are Schuler and Schulerin. They are studying an der Schule.

The old University system had a six year degree that ended in either a Diplom (science), a Magister (Masters of Art) or a Staatsexamen for teachers, lawyers and doctors. The new system, instituted by the Bologna Reforms, which are trying to systematize and harmonize academic standards within 40 nations (NOT limited to the EU, for instance it includes Russia), for the sake of facilitating student and faculty exchanges and labor mobility through standardization of credentials. This system in Germany, which is now being phased in, is a Bachelors of general study which lasts 3 years and a Masters in which a student specializes that lasts 2 years.

The last reform, that drives German students nuts, is the 500 Euro charge per semester paid by students in BW. It should be noted that this is specifically to be used ONLY for more faculty, not for infrastructural improvements. The major complaint is that this undermines the solidarity derived from a system of free education that rewards merit over family wealth. However, this charge is variable according to income and lower income individuals qualify for BAFOG grants that essentially give free money for students from lower income brackets who attend Hochschulen and Universitaten.

One problem with the above reforms is that it has diluted the prestige of the once-mighty German Magister or Diplom. In one instance, according to Frau Sauer, a Malaysian school refused to honor a German applicants Bachelor’s degree.

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