Bologna reforms now implemented and widely accepted

Ten years after the formal introduction of bachelor and masters degrees at German higher education institutions in the wake of the Bologna reforms, most courses have been adapted to the new degree system.

Statistics suggest that the new degrees have found acceptance among students and industry.

“Developments over the last few years have shown that opting for a Europe-wide higher education reform was the right decision,” said Higher Education Minister Annette Schavan.

“Never before has student mobility been as high as it is today, and never before has studying taken so little time. Introducing the bachelor degree as an early degree qualifying for a profession offers graduates many options to plan a career.”

Schavan called the Bologna reforms a “European success story”.

Germany’s higher education system has received much criticism for its drawn-out implementation of the reforms, although by last winter semester, 85% of its more than 15,000 study courses had been transformed in line with the Bologna concept and degree structure.

The fachhochschulen, or universities of applied science, have been quicker to introduce the new degrees than traditional universities.

Interviews among the fachhochschul graduate cohort of 2006 revealed that 39% had left without completing their bachelor studies. By 2010, this figure had dropped to 19%.

Students have frequently complained about too much content being crammed into the three-year bachelors courses, resulting in an excessive workload, especially if they have to work part-time to support their studies.

However, half of the 2010 cohort of university graduates obtained their bachelor degrees after just 6.5 semesters of studying, whereas half of university students graduating from universities with a diplom, the old university degree, had taken up to 12.2 semesters, according to the education ministry.

It claims this implies that the Bologna reforms have brought average study time in Germany closer to what the country’s Higher Education Framework Law, adopted long before the Bologna reforms, had originally prescribed.

One of the advantages of the new system over the old is that students can graduate and enter a profession at a much earlier stage.

Later on, when they have gained practical experience, they can enrol again, usually for a masters course: 54%of fachhochschul graduates go on to further courses, as a rule masters courses, while 77% of graduates from traditional universities do so.

The new degrees also appear to be successful in the labour market. Just two percent of university graduates and three percent of fachhochschul graduates are unemployed, and only five percent and three percent respectively are overqualified for their occupation.

According to the Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft Köln – Cologne Institute for Economic Research – the majority of employers are satisfied with the new system. This finding is echoed by a survey by Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, an organisation representing foundations supporting higher education and research.

The Bologna reforms also appear to promote student mobility. The number of German students enrolled abroad almost doubled from 1999-2009, to 115,000. By 2009, five percent more students were participating in the European Union’s Erasmus programme. And nowadays, around a third of all German students gather at least some experience abroad.