Bologna not to taste of German critics

Reforms instigated by the Bologna Process are damaging German universities and producing lower-quality graduates, a conference has heard.

May 6, 2012

Felix Grigat, a representative of the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers, said that changes introduced under the programme to harmonise European higher education systems had undermined institutional autonomy and universities’ ability to educate students to high standards.

Degrees were now more skills-orientated than focused on developing critical thinking, he argued at a British Council conference in Wildbad Kreuth, near Munich, on 3 May, which compared the German and UK higher education systems.

“Employers complain that students are immature, unprepared and not comparable with former graduates,” Mr Grigat, editor of the association’s magazine, Forschung & Lehre (Research & Teaching), argued. “Students and staff are also complaining about a move away from an academic experience to one concerned with skills.”

The changes undermined the traditional Humboldtian values on which German universities were based, he said, with studies centred on “competence” in a narrow field of knowledge, rather than immersion in a diverse range of academic studies.

Mr Grigat added: “This notion of ‘competence’ only about markets, not about developing what is special about the person.”

This shift had led many academics to claim that “Humboldt is dead”, he said, while “a more economical approach to universities” was now prevalent.

Claiming Bologna had failed in Germany, he concluded: “It has missed all its objectives – student mobility has not increased, study time has not decreased and employers complain about graduate skills.”

Roland Sturm, professor of political science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said Bologna had added an extra layer of bureaucracy for academics.

“German universities suffer from a huge amount of admin already and there is no one to relieve us of it,” he lamented.

However, Winfried Schulze, director of the Mercator Research Center, the University Alliance Metropolis Ruhr, said the changes in German higher education were not down to Bologna.

“We are responding to something that has been happening for 30 to 40 years – the massification of universities,” he said. “We cannot educate 40 per cent of people and offer the same education that we gave to 5 per cent. Those who graduate from these ‘competence’ universities are not doing any worse than those from more traditional educational universities.”

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