Kai Peters, Chief Executive of Ashridge, Believes That the European Higher Education System Is about to Go through One of the Biggest Changes in History as a Result of the Bologna Declaration. and the Most Significant Impact Will Be on Business Studies

By Peters, Kai | European Business Forum, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Kai Peters, Chief Executive of Ashridge, Believes That the European Higher Education System Is about to Go through One of the Biggest Changes in History as a Result of the Bologna Declaration. and the Most Significant Impact Will Be on Business Studies


Peters, Kai, European Business Forum


The landscape of European higher education and European business schools is changing rapidly. The Bologna Declaration was introduced in 1999 and subsequent communiques have now been signed by 45 European countries. The signatories have agreed to align their systems of higher education to facilitate greater transparency, increase mobility and rationalise the granting of degrees across Europe by 2010. Europe has just passed the halfway point in the Bologna Process. It's time to take stock.

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At the heart of the Declaration is the replacement of the old system of Master's degrees only, with programmes lasting five years, to a progression from a Bachelor's degree to a Master's, with either a four-year Bachelor's programme and one-year Master's degree, or three years and two.

All European students will henceforth graduate first with a Bachelor's degree. They can subsequently choose to continue their studies in the same subject at the same university, change subject or university nationally or internationally, or go directly into employment.

The numbers are significant. Depending on participation and completion rates, we estimate that between 1.5 and two million Europeans will graduate annually with Bachelor's degrees once the Bologna Process has been fully implemented.

To adapt to the new landscape, universities are designing a whole range of Master's programmes to attract these graduates. Some schools expect that the graduates will simply continue at their home institutions in their original subjects, ultimately graduating, as they would have in the past, with a Master's degree. Other schools are more sophisticated. By benchmarking the Anglo-American system, they realise that Master's programmes are predominantly selected by students to further their career goals. Programmes must be well designed in order to attract students.

An uncertain future

Estimates vary wildly as to what graduates will do. Traditional universities expect that over 80 per cent of Bachelor's degree graduates will simply stay put and do a pre-experience Master's degree - that is, a Master's degree without an intervening period in employment. Those that benchmark the Anglo-American system, however, see that US and UK participation rates for pre- and post-experience Master's combined are only in the 25 per cent range, and understand that competition for students will be fierce. Sophisticated marketing will be needed.

Nowhere is this restructuring more significant than in business studies. All universities that had previously delivered integrated five-year business degrees are now launching pre-experience Master's programmes. These programmes are seeking to retain home students, but also attract graduates from elsewhere. Naming conventions are unclear. Some of these programmes are being called Master of Science programmes; others are called Master of Arts. Confusingly, in both France (according to actions taken by individual schools) and Germany (by legislative permission) some are called MBAs. Other countries, many in the Mediterranean regions, have yet to clearly define how they wish to tackle Bologna.

Others are ahead. Switzerland and the Netherlands are both early adopters of the Bologna reforms. In both countries, Masters programmes are delivered primarily in English. Universities are becoming increasingly sophisticated in marketing and delivering programmes, and are attracting students internationally. Tellingly, schools with strong reputations are attracting Master's students who had graduated from Bachelor's programmes with lesser brands.

Some of these programmes are within state-subsidy systems and will therefore have insignificant tuition fees. Others have begun to charge fees of over [euro] 10,000 annually to non-EU students.

Conservatively, we estimate that 12,000 new business and economics Master's programmes will be launched in the forthcoming years, and these programmes will attract many students annually. …

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Kai Peters, Chief Executive of Ashridge, Believes That the European Higher Education System Is about to Go through One of the Biggest Changes in History as a Result of the Bologna Declaration. and the Most Significant Impact Will Be on Business Studies
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