WENR, August 2005: Europe
Top Court Overturns Austrian University Admissions Rules
The admissions process for Austrian universities is in breach of European Union (EU) rules, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided in July.
Students who have gained a high school diploma in a member state other than Austria should be given equal access to Austrian universities, the court ruled. Although foreign students are not restricted from the Austrian admission process, they are required to prove they have obtained a place at a university in their own country as an entry requirement to an Austrian university. In contrast, domestic students who have passed the matura, an examination completed at the end of secondary school, are granted access to the university program of their choice. It is this provision that the ECJ found discriminatory and contrary to “the very essence of the principle of freedom of movement for students guaranteed by the EC Treaty.” It constitutes discrimination on the grounds of nationality (largely German) and is contrary to the provisions of the European Treaty, the court stated.
The Austrian government responded quickly by changing admissions procedures for the country’s 21 public universities. Furthermore, the government has introduced a measure to Parliament that would end unlimited access to eight courses of university study: biology, business administration, dentistry, journalism and communications, medicine, pharmaceutical studies, psychology and veterinary medicine. The former admissions policy was considered necessary to prevent high numbers of German students not accepted to institutions at home from overwhelming Austrian institutions of higher education. The new legislation now working its way through Parliament is seen as an effort to prevent an expected 60,000 German students from trying to enroll in high-demand programs at Austrian institutions.
— EU Observer
July 8, 2005
Regulations on Joint Degrees Issued
The French Ministry of Education enacted in June two legal changes to permit its universities to award joint degrees with national and overseas universities. According to the new regulations, a French university can run a joint degree program with a foreign institution and award a joint degree, provided that the French institution and the degrees it awards are accredited by the government. In turn, the collaborating foreign institution has the right to award a degree at the same level and in the same field from its own country’s relevant regulatory body.
— ACA Newsletter
American University of Paris Expands
The oldest U.S. institution of higher education in Europe has expanded its offerings with the launch of its first master’s degree programs, coupled with a planned increase in enrollments.
Inspired by the European educational harmonization and reform movement, known as the Bologna process, and the opening up of the French higher education sector, American University of Paris (AUP) introduced two master’s programs this spring: a master of science in finance and, in partnership with the Institut Catholique de Paris, a bilingual master of arts in international relations. Master’s programs in international communications, public policy and regionally focused international relations are planned for 2006 and beyond.
The university currently enrolls approximately 900 students in its U.S.-style programs, which combine multidisciplinary general, elective and specialist studies. AUP plans to increase enrollments to 1,500 with the addition of its new programs.
‘Elite’ University Funding Awaits Chancellor’s OK
Germany’s state leaders in June approved a US$2.37 billion spending package to foster the development of top universities and research institutes. The agreement, which has been the subject of controversy and debate among federal and state officials for almost a year-and-a-half (see January/February 2005 issue of WENR), will soon be signed into action by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
The money will go toward the establishment of 30 top-quality research centers in various disciplines at universities around the country, 40 additional graduate schools and extra financial support for 10 universities that are competing to be upgraded to so-called “elite universities” (similar to the U.S. “Ivy League”). The funds will be distributed in 2006.
— Deutsche Welle
June 23, 2005
Influx of International Students Reverses Brain Drain
A recent study reveals the outflow of well-educated Germans to foreign shores has not only been stymied, but reversed. From the 1980s and until the late 1990s, a significant number of German scientists left their home country to take up positions in other developed nations. According to research from the German student association Deutsches Studentenwerk, Germany is now attracting far more young scientists from around the world than it is losing.
Fifteen percent of new “junior professorships” are now held by foreign academics, while more than 200,000 foreign students are enrolled at German universities, of which Asians account for more than 25 percent (the second largest group after Europeans [see next piece]). Foreign students make up 10 percent of the total tertiary-level student body in Germany, a huge number when compared to the United States, where just 4 percent of the student body is international. The appeal of free tuition appears to be one of the main motivations for foreign students, with more than 50 percent of those interviewed for the study admitting that financial concerns were a key factor in choosing Germany as their study destination.
— Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
June 3, 2005
Exchange Service Releases Latest Mobility Figures
The German Academic Exchange Service in May published the latest figures for the internationalization of study and research in Germany. The statistics reveal the increasing popularity of German institutions of education for overseas students. In academic year 2003-04, more than 246,000 international students studied in Germany, a year-on-year increase of 8.4 percent.
A breakdown of the figures in the annual Wissenschaft Weltoffen survey shows that the largest source countries are China, Poland, France, Bulgaria and Spain. Approximately 56,000 German students studied abroad in 2004 at foreign institutions of higher education, an increase of 8 percent. The most popular destinations were the United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, France and Austria.
— German Academic Exchange Service
May 30, 2005
Tuition Fees Expand in Wake of Court Decision
The recently elected and right-leaning coalition government of North Rhine-Westphalia has announced plans to allow universities in the state to charge tuition fees. The announcement follows a decision by the German Supreme Court in January that a law preventing federal states from charging tuition fees is unconstitutional (see January/February 2005 issue of WENR).
North Rhine-Westphalia joins a growing list of states that have announced they will introduce fees as soon as possible. In these regions, an academic semester will cost students US$620 – not a huge sum when compared to fees in the United States, but still a jolt for German university students who have come out in large numbers over the last six months to protest that free higher education should remain a right guaranteed by the state.
The German Rectors Conference believes universities in the country are underfunded by US$3.7 billion a year. Those in favor of tuition argue the fees will help improve the quality of teaching and create greater efficiency through the introduction of “market mechanisms.” Among the many arguments of the contrarians is that fees will only compensate for declining state funds, and as such net funding will not actually increase, while students from poorer backgrounds will be squeezed out of the market. They also fear that the imposition of fees will discourage international students from studying at German universities, especially as there is no effective system of grants and scholarships.
— Deutsche Welle
June 6, 2005
Quality-Assurance Measures Spark Protests
Greek students and academics took to the streets for three days in June to protest government plans to introduce a Bologna-inspired quality-assessment system.
Ministry of Education plans involving internal and external evaluation are scheduled to go into effect with the start of the new academic year. Trade unions have opposed the proposals, fearing the measures will lead to the commercialization of knowledge, a devaluation of state higher education and the gradual closure of many departments. The unions have urged members to refuse to implement the proposals when they become law. Academic staff fear the new quality-assurance measures will lead to the classification of higher education institutions, a step they claim would leave them open to privatization and market forces.
— The Times Higher Education Supplement
June 10, 2005
Parliament OKs New Higher Education Law
Parliament passed a new law on higher education in May that will create a three-tier structure for Hungary’s system of higher education. Beginning in 2006, three-year bachelor (except in specialized fields such as medicine or art), two-year master and three-year doctoral studies will be introduced at universities across the country.
— ACA Newsletter
Agreement Reached with Slovakia on Mutual Academic Equivalence
The Slovak and Polish education ministries reached agreement in July on the mutual recognition of their academic qualifications. The agreement states that both countries recognize the equivalence of each other’s curriculum and the mutual equivalence of education records, academic degrees and academic titles. The agreement was signed after three years of negotiations; it is hoped it will facilitate mobility of academics and students between the two countries.
— Slovakia Network
July 5, 2005
German, Polish Leaders Promise Funds to Multilingual University
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski agreed in July to provide lavish funding for a landmark multilingual university on the border between the two countries. The US$68.6 million that has been promised for Viadrina European University will come mainly from the German federal budget, while Poland will contribute US$6.2 million to the institution, which currently enrolls 5,000 students. It is hoped the new funding will help patch up recently strained relations between the two countries. From its inception in 1991, the main objective of the university has been to foster relations between the two countries.
The university is in Frankfurt, which since 1945 has been on the German-Polish border. What used to be the eastern part of the city, Slubice, is now part of Poland. The university’s courses are taught in German, Polish and French and have full equivalence in both Poland and France. One-third of the student body is Polish.
— German Press Agency
July 26, 2005
University Assessment Process Begins
The Slovak government announced in June that a process to evaluate the nation’s universities has received funding and is under way. Future university subsidies will be linked to the results of the quality audit.
The process will involve both an internal and an external evaluation conducted by EVA, a government body established by the Slovak Rectors’ Conference. Education Minister Martin Fronc said he expects the institutional self-evaluations to be prepared by the end of the year, and external evaluations to begin soon after in 2006. According to news reports, the European Universities Association will be responsible for the external evaluations, although a cooperation agreement is still pending.
A private university ratings agency, ARRA, also has been commissioned to perform a quality audit and is in the process of evaluating universities in four areas: specialized knowledge, quality of the education process, versatility of student degrees and overall impression, based on student accommodation and facilities. Results of the ARRA inspections are expected this fall.
— The Slovak Spectator
June 15, 2005
2-Year Master’s Degrees Imminent
Sweden is to introduce a new master’s degree under reforms proposed by Education Minister Leif Pagrotsky and inspired by the Bologna process, the Europe-wide education harmonization movement. The stated aim of the new degree is to make “higher education in Sweden more international and more attractive.”
The current one-year master’s degree, or magisterexamen, will still be offered in parallel to the new degree. Controversially, university colleges will have to apply for permission from the National Agency for Higher Education to award the two-year degree, unless they already have the right to confer doctoral degrees in a specific discipline. Students say this will create a two-tier education system. The bill will go before Parliament this fall.
— ACA Newsletter
Government Takes on Bogus Credentials
A recent study has found that Sweden is suffering from an ever-increasing volume of bogus and counterfeit credentials used to secure jobs and university places. In response, the National Agency for Higher Education (HSV), the government body responsible for evaluating foreign credentials, has begun implementing a number of measures to counteract the trend.
According to the study, “Fake Universities and Bogus Degrees – Sweden and the World,” there has been a dramatic increase in the number of job seekers who have been caught trying to pass off fake degrees as genuine, with more than 30 cases reported in the last two years. The HSV fears a far greater number are slipping through the net, especially in the private sector, where there is less familiarity with foreign credentials.
The agency has started to catalog international degree-awarding institutions as requests come in from institutions of higher education and employers for the verification of their credentials. As a result, it already has found approximately 800 Web-based fake universities, an increase of 600 over its estimate of 200 in 2001. The agency is advising institutions of higher education to make their documents harder to forge, as it has noticed a surge in the number of counterfeit credentials purporting to have been issued from prestigious Swedish universities. The report also recommends the introduction of a digital database that employers can access to verify an applicant’s qualifications, something into which Australia is already looking.
— The National Agency for Higher Education
Private Sector Knocking on the Door
The British government recently relaxed the rules for institutions wishing to apply for degree-awarding powers under legislation that opens the way for teaching-only universities. Three professional/higher education providers, including the College of Law and BPP, a professional training company, have so far applied to become universities (see July/August 2004 issue of WENR).
According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, BPP, if successful, could begin enrolling students in two-year accelerated-degree programs in law and accountancy as early as September 2006, after which it has said it will seek university status. A fourth provider, the Financial Training Co., part of Kaplan Inc., is also looking into the possibility of seeking degree-awarding powers. The new rules require that institutions seeking to offer degree programs have at least 4,000 full-time students, none of whom needs to be engaged in research activities.
— The Times Higher Education Supplement
July 1, 2005
Scots Lure Foreign Students with Promise of Employment
Overseas students are now able to apply to live and work in Scotland for two years without the need for a work permit. The new regulations are a part of the Fresh Talent Initiative, which was designed to attract thousands of talented students and workers to Scotland in an effort to stem the declining population.
Students who graduate with a higher national diploma or a degree from a Scottish college or university will be able to apply to stay and work in the country for two years after the end of their programs. Scottish institutions of higher education are confident that the new directive will have a positive impact on international recruitment, as it now helps to make Scotland an attractive destination for foreign students, especially in comparison with England, where visa and employment regulations are much more stringent. The new initiative will also help counter the negative impact of the British government’s recent decision to increase visa fees, which many in the industry believe is seriously detrimental to their overseas recruitment policies.
— The Scotsman
June 17, 2005
Northampton, Chester Colleges Upgraded to University Status
Two university colleges – Northampton and Chester – have been awarded university status and full research degree-awarding powers, it was announced in July. The colleges are now considering new names, which are expected to be the University of Northampton and the University of Chester, respectively.
The two former colleges are among a handful to have applied for university status over the past year. Following a rule change in last year’s Higher Education Act, colleges can now apply to become universities based solely on their teaching merits, rather than having to gain the right to award research degrees (see above). Both Northampton and Chester will now be able to offer degrees from foundation to doctorate.
— The Guardian
July 11 & 25, 2005
Renewed Calls for A Level Reform
Just as surely as the wildebest migrate across the Serengeti, so commentary on Britain’s tertiary qualifications turns to talk of A-Level reform. According to headteachers, the “gold standard” A-level is in danger of becoming no more than a school leaving certificate, as universities prepare to begin entrance exams and tests because of the government’s refusal to introduce reforms.
The overall A-Level pass rate, which was announced in August, increased for the 23rd successive year to 96.2 percent prompting debate about whether standards are being maintained. The rise of 0.2 percent was, however, the lowest in 20 years. The concerns communicated by the National Association of Head Teachers (AHT) center around the steep increase in the proportion of A grades being awarded. With 22.8 percent of A-Level takers getting an A the task of picking the best students is being made ever harder for university admissions departments.
The government maintains that the improving results reflect improvements in the education system, not the dumbing down of A-Levels. Regardless, the government faced renewed calls to replace subject-specific A-Levels with an overarching diploma system, which was advocated last year in the Tomlinson report on 14 to 19 education. The government once again rejected calls for reform. One of the main tenets of the Tomlinson report is to broaden secondary studies to integrate vocational and professional education into the curriculum and incorporate them as part of a broader school-leaving diploma.
The recent round of results revealed growth of nearly 30 percent in the number of pupils opting to take the tougher questions in the Advanced Extension Award (AEA) — taken in addition to A-levels but in a limited range of subjects. The popularity of these additional tests coupled with the increasing popularity of individual university entrance exams means that A-levels will become little more than school leaving certificates, the AHT warns.