GERMANY: Different credits for Bologna

The Bologna process was given a positive appraisal by government officials and the German Rectors' Conference at last month's meeting of higher education ministers in Belgium. Students appear to be less enthusiastic about the reforms and, at May Day demonstrations throughout Germany, some even called for scrapping the new bachelor and masters degrees altogether.

"The Bologna process has brought about an important, long overdue reform of the German higher education landscape," said Andreas Storm, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, in Leuven. Storm pledged Germany's full commitment to the process.

Saxony-Anhalt's Minister of Cultural Affairs, Jan-Hendrik Olbertz, who also headed the delegation of German State Ministers to the Leuven meeting, emphasised the role of curriculum development and improving the quality of teaching in implementing the Bologna process over the next 10 years.

"The diversity of programmes that has already emerged is encouraging and shows how innovative our institutions are," Olbertz said. "However, we also have to ask ourselves whether too much differentiation might not again restrict student mobility, especially in the bachelor's phase. The width and depth of contents, especially in bachelor's courses, has to be critically revised too, in order to take more account of practical requirements in the professional world and to ensure that students really can complete programmes."

HRK President Margret Wintermantel, who attended the conference as a guest, said the meeting demonstrated how important investing in education was: "This represents a self-commitment on the part of all participating countries to invest in education," she said, adding that much still needed to be done to make full use of what Bologna offered but that efforts in this direction were certainly worthwhile.

The German higher education system has faced some criticism over the last few years for being slow in implementing the Bologna reforms. To date, institutions offer 5,309 bachelor courses and 4,201 masters courses, representing 76% of all study courses in Germany. Numbers have risen by 3% since the 2008-2009 winter semester, and have been steadily on the increase since 1999.

But not all students are happy with the reforms. During the May Day demonstrations, students carried banners demanding the bachelor and masters programmes be abandoned altogether. Complaints have often been made that in a top-down approach, institutions have been left to their own devices; that new courses are oriented far too much on employability and on "vocational training in the university".

Examination pressures have also increased and students have less freedom to choose lectures and seminars, critics have claimed.

Anja Gadow of the "freier zusammenschluss von StudentInnenschaften" (fzs), the umbrella organisation of German student unions, said the fzs did not generally oppose the new degrees, although she could understand why there was so much disgruntlement among students.

"What we criticise is that there has only been a structural reform rather than a proper reform of courses that would have come up with really new concepts," Gadow explained. "Also, there is a lack of additional funding to support the new structures."

As a result of this "half-hearted approach", Gadow argued that instead of qualitative changes, students were now faced with more examination pressure. Specialisation had been too extreme in many cases and credits given in different courses did not fit together, complicating moving among similar subjects, which in turn hampered mobility - in a system that was supposedly offering greater choice.