Reform or Re-Labeling? A Student's Perspective on the Introduction of the Bachelor's and Master's Degree in German Higher Education
Stallmann, Freia, German Policy Studies
The German higher education illness: a diagnosis
The German higher education system is suffering from a serious malaise. After years of inactivity and half-hearted reforms, the diagnosis is clear--we have to change our habits, or the patient will die a silent death. The findings reoccurring in the public debate on German higher education can be summarized as follows:
When they finish their first degree, German students are much older than their European peers. The average age of a German graduate in the year 2000 is twenty-eight years, the average freshmen having entered into university at the age of twenty-two (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2002). Apart from extended costs for the state in the form of child benefit, tax exemption and losses to the pension funds, an average 6 years of study also prolongs the payments of parents during the period of their children's education and deprives the students themselves of possible income.
In Germany we find dropout rates of about 30 % at university level (Hochschul-Informations-System, 2002: p7). Dropout rates are especially high in the social sciences, where 42% of the students leave without a degree, and the humanities, where we find dropout rates of 41% (Hochschul-Informations-System, 2002: p28).
Furthermore, the degree of internationalisation of the German higher education system is too low. The German degree system is not compatible with the Anglo-American one, and Germany has always been very reluctant to accept foreign degrees, both in the academic sphere and in the labour market. Likewise, German universitie s are very inflexible when it comes to recognizing individual courses attended at foreign or even other German institutions. It is also argued that German degrees are not easily transferable on the international level. It is thus concluded that studying in Germany is an unattractive prospect for foreign students.
Finally, employers and graduates alike complain that German degree programmes are too impractical. Applied coursework is rare and many programmes do not include internships or other career-oriented elements.
The common lament is that the prestige of German graduates and German Higher Education on the international scene is seriously in decline. The phenomenon of the mass university combined with long-term shortages in funding has lead to a deterioration of the student-teacher ratio and ever-growing deficits concerning equipment and infrastructure of the German university. Obviously, the quality of German Higher Education is completely overturned in a society where more than 30% of a generation attend a university based on the values of an 19th century elitist system designed to prepare a selected minority for a career in academia. At the same time, the need for qualified graduates is growing, so it is not an option to blindly restrict the access to higher education. Thus, the public debate stresses the need to reorganise the degree structure in a more efficient way, enabling students to complete their first degree earlier.
In this context, the introduction of the Bachelor's and Master's degree in the German Higher Education system comes as the ultimate cure. The German policy is a result of the 'Bologna-Sorbonne-Prague Process' that recognizes the need for student transfer in European higher education and on the European labour market, but also increases the competition between the national higher education systems. Following these international developments, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Laender in Germany (KMK (1)), the federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF (2)), as well as the Association of Universities and other Higher Education Institutions in Germany (HRK (3)) have set the framework for the introduction of 'modularisation' and 'credit point systems' leading up to a Bachelor's Degree after three or four years and a Master's Degree after one or two more years. The stipulations of the amendment of the German Higher Education Framework Act of 20 August 1998, which allows the introduction of a new two-cycles system, has by now been incorporated in all state higher education acts (HRK, 2000). The old and the new degrees will exist in parallel in the near future (KMK 1999).
New Degrees: Dealing with basic structural deficits
The introduction of a two-cycle degree system is supposed to respond to the challenges the higher education system has to face after the basic social changes of the last decades. Not only has the university system turned into a mass system, but also the process of individualisation as described by Ulrich Beck (Beck, 1986), has led to the dissolution of traditional biographical patterns and to a diversification of lifestyles and renders the student population in modern societies more heterogeneous than ever. Their expectations concerning a degree programme may vary enormously, as may the weekly time they can invest in their studies and the competences they already possess in their field of choice.
The tradition of German higher education, which is deeply rooted in the early 19th century neo-humanistic educational ideal, is very badly prepared for the increase in student numbers and the heterogeneity of the student population. It is based on a) the concept of Bildung (education), which is strongly connected to Lernfreiheit (freedom of learning), b) the concept of Lehrfreiheit, i.e. academic freedom of the professor and c) the concept of unity of research and teaching (Humboldt, reprinted in 1968).
Thus, it presupposes an ideal student who is fully dedicated to his studies and can invest all his time in them. He is supposed to be striving for Bildung, a notion that stresses the emancipation and affirmation of the individual, and is realised through a process of self-conducted enlightenment. To give this ideal student room for personal development, he is given considerable freedom in the design of his educational career, i.e. the possibility to learn as and when he or she wishes.
Furthermore, the German tradition presupposes an ideal professor who is equally dedicated to his 'calling' of teaching and research, and who needs freedom from exterior control to develop scientific ideas in an atmosphere of Einsamkeit und Freiheit (seclusion and freedom). The latter are to guarantee his independence from any instrumentalisation, be it political or other. The ideas of seclusion and freedom, which are seen as respectively dependant prerequisites of pure science and knowledge, were originally formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt in the context of a theory of knowledge (see Humboldt, reprinted 1968) but have been translated in an institutional structure …
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Publication information: Article title: Reform or Re-Labeling? A Student's Perspective on the Introduction of the Bachelor's and Master's Degree in German Higher Education. Contributors: Stallmann, Freia - Author. Journal title: German Policy Studies. Volume: 2. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 2002. Page number: Not available. © 2006 Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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