Curriculum Change in German-Speaking Europe: Universities Are Engaged in a Balancing Act between National Traditions and Global Pressures

By Gomez, Peter; Spoun, Sascha | European Business Forum, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Curriculum Change in German-Speaking Europe: Universities Are Engaged in a Balancing Act between National Traditions and Global Pressures


Gomez, Peter, Spoun, Sascha, European Business Forum


Until recently management education comparable to that provided by the typical Anglo-Saxon MBA course was practically unknown in the German-speaking world. Increasing demands for equivalent qualifications, however, have arisen as a result of globalisation generally and economic globalisation in particular. At the same time, universities have been given the opportunity to restructure their curriculum through the 'Bologna Declaration' signed by the European Ministries of Education. The 1999 Bologna Declaration set the EU and other European countries a target of 2010 for creating a more homogenous higher education system.

In this article we will highlight the balancing act between the new global imperative on the one hand and national traditions in the German-speaking world (Europe's largest linguistic population) on the other. We will make special reference to the University of St. Gallen which was one of the first commercial institutes of higher education to be established in the 19th century and which today can claim to be the first university in the German-speaking world to have fully implemented the Bachelor/Master programme of studies.

Great traditions: public education and diplomas

Management education is currently influenced by a number of factors which vary according to country and university: societal values, funding, faculty and student preferences and economic tendencies. Higher education in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland is predominantly state-sponsored; i.e. most institutes are under national sponsorship, publicly funded, and historically often emerged as a consequence of the state's own development needs. Unlike the Anglo-Saxon world, there are scarcely any private universities and almost no private business schools of significance. Legal statutes regulate university activities in many details, although in Switzerland there has traditionally been greater leeway, and in Austria the University Organisation Law of 2002 has recently created a more liberal framework. For years experts have been pushing for more autonomy for individual institutes of higher education: in Germany this pressure needs to continue. For now, management education offered by universities in the German-speaking world is likely to predominantly reflect political decision-making and consensus-seeking rather than economic demands.

Today almost all universities in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland award, respectively, the 'Diplom', the 'Magister' or the 'Lizentiat' for business administration studies as the first academic degree. Considered to be the equivalent of the 'Master', these qualifications are awarded after a standard consecutive study period of eight or nine semesters, although in practice it generally takes much longer (ten to 13 semesters). Introduced for the most part in the 1950s and 1960s, this programme of study gave business administration the status of a full university degree, something those involved in the discipline are anxious to keep. Germans are especially proud of this theoretically-based curriculum. That said, the best academic preparation for leading management positions is the doctorate. Although only ten per cent of business administration graduates advance to doctoral studies, roughly half of those in senior executive management positions have earned a doctoral degree. In many ways doctoral degrees have assumed the same function as an MBA from a good business school.

The transition from Diploma to Bachelor and Master within state-regulated basic studies is largely shaping current developments. The former university diploma will disappear over the next ten years, thanks to the political stipulations of the Bologna accords but a few universities, such as St. Gallen, will advance more quickly.

Another philosophy behind management education

Management education in the German-speaking world has not been able to develop in an Anglo-Saxon way, not only because of the public university structure, but also because of the philosophy of business education. …

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