WENR, August 2006: Europe

EU-US Strike Agreement on Cooperation in Tertiary Education

At the EU-US summit in Vienna held in June, officials from the United States and the European Union inked an eight-year education agreement outlining cooperation in both higher education and vocational training. The EU will allocate US$57million between 2006 and 2013 to help fund the participation of 6,000 students from both the U.S. and Europe in academic exchanges. European Commissioner in charge of education, Jan Figel, hopes that the new initiative will promote structural, long-term partnerships among EU and U.S. institutions of higher education and vocational training. The goals of the educational agreement are grouped into four categories:

Joint Consortia Projects: support for developing transatlantic joint-degree programs

Excellence Mobility Projects: available funds for existing programs with proven transatlantic track records

Policy-oriented Measures: addressing common tertiary education issues and promoting transatlantic credential and accreditation recognition

Schuman-Fulbright Program: providing scholarships for academics travel abroad in order to study EU-US issues

European Commission news release [1]
June 21, 2006


University Reforms Move Forward Despite Widespread Protest

Greek students and lecturers have been hitting the streets and blockading university departments en masse this summer to protest proposed changes to the country’s higher education laws. Students are fearful that the proposed reforms would undermine Greece’s publicly financed system of higher education. They have also been strongly opposing proposed changes to the asylum laws that prevent police from entering university grounds.

Departments at most universities across the country have been closed for a period and many final exams have been boycotted or disrupted. Also opposed by many of the protestors are measures to fully recognize private universities, which until now issue credentials that are not recognized by government authorities; Greece is the only country in Europe without provisions for the recognition of credentials from private institutions of higher education. By recognizing private universities, it is hoped that more students would stay in the country for tertiary studies. As it stands, Greek students are among the most mobile in Europe, with nine percent of students traveling abroad to study.

The reform measures would also bring an end to the student-for-life phenomena by limiting the number of times students can retake exams in a subject and limiting the number of years they can take to earn a degree. A very low percentage of students currently graduate in the four to five years it is supposed to take to complete a first degree. Some estimates put failure rates as a high as 80 percent in some subjects, and students can retake exams as often as they like. With education being fully funded by the state, some argue that there is no incentive for students to pass their exams. This has led to fear among many student agitators that these reforms are a harbinger for the introduction of tuition fees, a movement that is beginning to pick up speed across Europe a continent that has long been a bastion for state-sponsored higher education.

Athens News
June 30, 2006


Bologna Bringing Faster Graduation Rates

According to the findings of a recent study by the AlmaLaurea Consortium of Italian universities, students in Italy are earning undergraduate degrees more quickly since the 2001 introduction of shorter first degrees.

The new three-year laurea was introduced in compliance with the provisions of the Bologna declaration, which, among other things, requires that all signatory countries (45 currently) introduce a harmonized degree structure based on a three-year first degree and a two-year second degree. The details of the study reveal that 64.4 percent of students who began their studies under the new system were on schedule last year in their progress toward a degree. In 2002 the figure for all first-degree candidates was 13 percent. The study also found that the average graduating age of students has dropped four years to 24 since 2001, when the new three-year degree was introduced to replace the four-year laurea.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [2]
June 23, 2006

The Netherlands

Two Top-ranked Business Schools Formalize Ties

Two of Europe’s top business schools HEC School of Management [3] in France and Spain’s ESADE [4] business school have formalized their long-standing close ties through a strategic alliance that will allow students to study for a period in both countries as well as allowing them to take advantage of joint programs overseas. In addition, students graduating from the schools’ MBA and MSc programs will be awarded double degrees.

The newly formalized agreement builds on years of cooperation between the two schools which saw them co-found the Cems network, the Community of European Management Schools [5]. The two schools will reportedly launch some new executive education programs in countries such as the US, which will allow them to redouble their recruitment efforts. Another reason for the new agreement is an expected increase in competition for the best and brightest students as a result of the harmonization of Europe’s higher education systems under the Bologna process.

The Financial Times [6]
June 16, 2006

Universities of Technology to Form Single Federation

An initiative to increase cooperation between Holland’s three universities of technology through the formation of a Federation of Dutch Universities of Technology is scheduled for completion by April 1 next year. The process, which began in 2003,is known as 3TU [7] and involves Delft University of Technology [8], the University of Twente [9] and Eindhoven University of Technology [10]. In forming a federation, the three universities aim to better place themselves in promoting the national goal of building a knowledge-based economy, while also increasing their international competitiveness in education, research and recruitment. The Dutch government announced earlier this year that it would contribute in excess of US$50 million to the project over the course of five years.

3TU [7]
July 2006


Foreign Students Flood Swedish Universities as Domestic Enrollments Drop

According to the findings of a report from the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education [11], the number of foreign students enrolling at Swedish institutions of higher education has increased significantly over the last decade, while the number of domestic students entering tertiary education has dropped off.

As a proportion of total new enrollments in academic year 2004-05 foreign students accounted for over 20 percent, an increase from eight years ago when foreign students accounted for just nine percent of the freshman class. New enrollments of international students last year were 16,400 from a total of 81,800. The same study found that due to budgetary reasons the number of Swedish students who do not pay tuition fees entering tertiary studies had decreased after several decades of growth. The number of students entering graduate studies has fallen the most, with a drop of 25 percent in two years.

The Local
May 30, 2006

Swedish Universities Strive for Greater Autonomy

The Association of Swedish Higher Education, representing 42 institutions of higher education, published a manifesto in June calling for the national government to increase spending on higher education and to allow universities a greater degree of academic and managerial autonomy.

The association also called on the private sector to up its funding of research at universities. With no academies or industrial-research institutes in the country, practically all scientific research is conducted at universities, the vast majority of which are public. To help accomplish this, the association has called for a change in the law to allow tax deductions for corporate or private donations to universities for research projects.

The release of the manifesto has been timed to influence the debate in the upcoming general election scheduled for the fall.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [2]
July 14, 2006


Voters Approve Reforms to Centralize Regulation of Universities

Voters in Switzerland approved amendments to the constitution in May that will centralize control of the country’s higher education system, traditionally the domain of individual cantons (states).

The amendments affect all levels of the education system and according to proponents will bring greater transparency, standardize quality standards, and increase student mobility. Traditionally, the individual cantonal governments have had overall responsibility for educational affairs, and the country’s ten universities are controlled and financed largely by the canton in which they are located with additional income coming from the federal government and those cantons that do not have a university in their jurisdiction. Now the ten universities will join Switzerland’s two technical institutes, in Zurich and Lausanne, by falling under the direct authority of the federal government.

The new measures come as Switzerland begins to finalize reforms that it has undertaken to meet the requirements of the Europe-wide educational harmonization project known as the Bologna process. The constitutional amendments will provide the necessary legislative backing to changes that have already been undertaken as part of the Bologna reforms, in addition to additional changes that still need to be undertaken.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [2]
June 2, 2006

United Kingdom

Admissions Service Rates Baccalaureate as Tougher than A Levels, Government Disagrees

The International Baccalaureate (IB), which in recent years has been replacing A-levels at a number of secondary schools across the United Kingdom, was recognized by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service [12] (UCAS) as representing a larger and tougher workload than that taken on by most students taking A-levels.

According to the UCAS weighting, a relatively modest score of 35 points (from a maximum of 45) on the IB is the equivalent to four and a half A grades at A-level. The average sixth-form student in Britain takes three to three and a half A-levels, and A grades on all those would be enough to secure a place at most academically selective universities. An IB score of 38, the average achieved every year by more than 200 pupils at Sevonoaks, one of the first private schools to adopt the exam, was judged to be equivalent to five A grades at A-level. Oxford [13] and Cambridge [14] typically ask for 40 points, equivalent to five and half A grades.

Currently 87 schools have adopted the IB which is comprised of three subjects at higher level and three at lower. Students are also required to write an extended essay, take a course in the theory of knowledge and fulfill the requirements of a component called “creativity, action and service.”

In related news, the Cambridge exam board is getting ready to roll out a refined version of the Pre-U exam, its alterative qualification for students looking to get into top universities. From 2008 the Pre-U exam will involve studying three subjects over two years, with final exams and an extended essay. Unlike AS or A-levels, it would not be modular and split into two parts, nor require everyone to do certain subjects like the IB. The Pre-U exam is being launched in response to complaints from teachers and universities that A-levels no longer prepare students adequately for university studies.

The Telegraph [15]
June 7, 2006
BBC [16]
June 23, 2006

New University Degree Caters to Need for China-Savvy Professionals

In a bid to attract potential students from the growing ranks of professionals who do business in China, the University of Greenwich [17] has introduced a new master’s program in international business as it pertains specifically to China. The postgraduate coursework will include training in the culture of China’s marketplace as well as conversational Mandarin and international business strategy and marketing. The one-year program will also include a short study abroad component that takes place in China.

The new Greenwich masters program comes on the heels of criticism from business leaders in Britain that their employees lacked the language and communication skills necessary to successfully conduct business with the Chinese. Recent research released by the Hay Group, a British management consultancy, found that while China is the UK’s largest export market, only 500 students a year graduate with degrees that require significant Chinese-language training.

The Guardian [18]
July 28, 2006

New University Officially Opened 

The University of Luton [19] and De Montfort University [20]‘s Bedford campus have merged to create the University of Bedfordshire [19] with a student population of 17,000. The new university will have three main campuses, in Luton town center, Putteridge Bury and at the Polhill campus in Bedford.

BBC [16]
August 1, 2006