Boom in shorter German degrees

January 7, 2000

The boom in Anglo-Saxon-style bachelor and master degrees in Germany has led university heads to set up an accreditation council to control standards.

The Bonn-based council has set basic criteria and minimum standards for the more than 300 degrees that have mushroomed in the past two years. The degrees are required to be internationally and professionally oriented.

Authorised agencies will handle the details of accreditation in individual subjects. The agencies will consist of academic peers and representatives from education ministries, students and business. They will develop uniform minimum standards and certify the courses that meet their requirements. They will then constantly assess and mark them.

Karl-Heinz Hoffmann, the council's chairman, said: "We have no tradition of bachelor and master degrees in Germany but we expect the number to grow to more than 1,000 in the near future. So we have to ensure that certain standards are maintained. Students need to know what the courses will offer them and employers need to know what they can expect of graduates."

The council - set up jointly by university rectors and education ministries - is not seeking standardisation. "We want the courses to develop as variable profiles as possible," said Professor Hoffmann.

Under German law, the Lander or states have sovereignty over higher education and the state education ministries will continue to be responsible for deciding whether a new degree course can be set up.

Accreditation from one of the new agencies is voluntary, but Professor Hoffmann said peer pressure was likely to encourage all new bachelor and master courses to seek certification.

Bachelor and master degrees have been offered in German universities and polytechnic universities, Fachhochschulen, since the higher education framework law two years ago. They were at first criticised as second-class but they are becoming popular because they offer the chance to graduate within an average four years rather than the seven years for a German degree.

Anglo-Saxon-style degrees are becoming a catalyst in reform since long study times are a big contributor to chronic overcrowding and high drop-out rates. They also offer internationally recognised qualifications for graduates who want to work abroad. The University of Bochum, in the Ruhr region, has already decided to transfer completely to bachelor and master degrees.

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