WENR, March 2009: Europe

New Site Acts as International Student, University Matchmaker

In January a website was launched with the ambition of matching internationally mobile students with universities looking to recruit students from overseas. Based in London, and established by a team of web specialists and academics, GlobalCampus allows students to build a profile of their achievements and academic needs, while allowing universities to define their recruitment needs. The result is a university, student-matching site.

While a majority of the information on the portal is currently about institutions in English-speaking countries, there are comprehensive plans for expanding the service to continental Europe and other countries worldwide. The service is available free of charge to both students and universities.

ACA Secretariat
January 2009

European Commission Sets Goal of European Research Area by 2020

The European Commission and the Council of Ministers adopted the European Research Area (ERA) Vision 2020 in December 2008 as part of the Ljubljana Process (ERA enhanced governance). By 2020, the hope is that all signatories will benefit from the free circulation of researchers, knowledge and technology.

European Commission
December 2, 2080

Number of English-Language Programs Across the Continent Continues to Grow

According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, business schools across Europe are driving the momentum behind English-language instruction in higher education. Master’s and doctoral programs in other fields are also increasingly offered in English, a trend that may bite into international enrollments at British universities.

While Sweden is frequently cited as an example of an education system offering high-quality instruction in English at a minimal cost, other European nations are also ramping up their English-language offerings. France, though historically protectionist of the French language, now offers 300 programs in English. Switzerland offers more than 200 master-of-science programs in English at fees lower than most British universities charge thanks to public subsidies. Almost all universities have fees of approximately $750 to $1,500. In the few cases where there are increased fees for foreigners, these are usually a small administrative surcharge of about $225. The result for Switzerland is one of the most international campuses in the world, with 23 percent of total enrollments coming from abroad. The figures for PhD students and academic staff are even higher. Almost 200 master’s programs are now offered in English by 11 of the 12 public universities.

The pay-off for governments that subsidize foreign students is the hope that they will stay on after graduation to work in companies or as entrepreneurs – the so-called ‘brain gain.’ They also have a direct impact on the university’s bottom line. Swedish universities calculate that if their business programs produce a single solid business that alone would repay the investment from the Swedish Government.

According to a new report from Sweden’s National Agency for Higher Education, many of the country’s masters programs are dominated by foreign students, while some have no Swedish participants at all. Sweden introduced two-year, English-language master’s degrees in 2007, and has since seen significant uptake by foreign students. The old Swedish “magister” (basically an additional year on top of a three-year bachelor’s degree) is currently run in parallel, and current figures show that the same total number of students are pursuing magister and master’s programs – approximately 10,000 a year. The agency reports however that many of Sweden’s universities are allocating increasing resources to the new master’s programs.

The agency’s figures show that foreign students dominate both the magister programs (54 percent) and master’s programs (61 percent). At the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, master’s programs accepted a total of 1,300 students for the 2007/2008 academic year, while the institute’s magister programs attracted only 163. The master’s program at Blekinge Institute of Technology reportedly enrolls 99 percent of its 490 student from abroad.

An Italian example is SDA Bocconi, the management school that forms part of the private Bocconi University in Milan. One of the first Italian universities to grant degrees in economics, it now ranks among the world’s leading business schools. It offers only one English-language bachelor’s degree (in international economics, management and finance), but a much broader range of more specialized masters in areas such as international healthcare management, fashion and design management, and fine food and beverages. At the Grenoble Graduate School of Business (GGSB), the international business school within Grenoble Ecole de Management, undergraduate programs are fairly limited. Far more significant are its masters in international business (299 students), full- and part-time MBAs (167) and doctorate in business administration (204). All are taught in English. In addition, the GGSB offers programs in Georgia, Russia and Moldova (mainly part-time MBAs with a specialization in global management), as well as in London and Singapore.

It has been harder for state universities in France to embrace these changes, because of a national desire to defend the French language ‘against’ the prevalence of English around the world, in addition to a lack of English-speaking faculty. That said, there are still approximately 300 English-taught programs.

The Times article suggests that British and American universities should be concerned about this growing trend.

The Times Higher Education Supplement
January 22, 2009
The Local
February 12, 2009

EU Pumps $1.2 Billion Into International Scholarship Program

The European Commission announced in February that students from outside the European Union have the opportunity to secure a slice of 950 million euros (more than US$1.2-billion) in new scholarship money over the next five years through Erasmus Mundus, an academic-mobility program.

Erasmus Mundus is intended to be competitive with the Fulbright program and to increase Europe’s attractiveness as a destination for foreign scholars. It began in 2004, and the European Parliament agreed last fall to expand it, based on the results of its first five-year pilot phase.

February 16, 2009


Bologna Protests Cause Government to Compromise

Following weeks of protests and disruptions at campuses across France, the Government backed down in late February on a controversial decree governing the hiring and promotion of researchers engaged in teaching, saying it would be “entirely rewritten on the basis of discussions conducted by Valérie Pécresse [the higher-education minister] with the organizations in question.”

The statement, issued in late February by the office of Prime Minister François Fillon, followed Mr. Fillon’s meeting with the leaders of the Conference of University Presidents. The government also announced that university job cuts scheduled for 2010 and 2011 would not be carried out.

The end of 2008 saw similar protests at Spanish, Italian and Greek universities. All protests have been indirectly aimed at the Bologna Process, which protesting students and faculty have blamed for their various grievances. For France, Bologna was blamed because it recommends a more hierarchical ‘management’ of universities.

The French Government had wanted to drastically change the position of teaching and research professors: a reform which comes as a consequence of the ‘law of rights and responsibilities of universities’ (LRU). Passed and brought into force in 2008, this law places vastly increased power in the hands of university presidents while reducing the influence of governing bodies.

The Government also wants to reform training for school teachers. While teacher training would still take five years of study as before, the final year would no longer be a year of paid work experience and the recruitment exams will have less academic content. This too has caused much consternation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 26, 2009


CHE Makes Its Case on University Rankings

University rankings are unquestionably controversial, yet extraordinarily influential. The standard methodology behind most rankings is based on weighted indicators, which are given a numerical value and then tallied with other indicator scores to create an overall institution score. This score is then tabulated against other university scores to derive a peer versus peer ranking. The German Center for Higher Education Development (CHE) has been at the forefront of developing an entirely different approach to rankings, which they argue provides prospective students with a much better sense as to the quality of the departments and institutions they are interested in attending.

The CHE first published its ranking of German academic departments more than 10 years ago, focusing on departments as opposed to institutions as whole, believing that many weaker institutions have national- or world-class departments that might otherwise be overlooked by an institutional approach to ranking.

The second feature of the CHE ranking is that it does not create values by weighing indicators and then calculating an overall value, believing the weighting process to be arbitrary: who decides that class sizes are more important than faculty research output, or vice versa? Instead, the CHE lets the indicator results stand on their own, and lets the user decide what is important for his or her personal decision-making process, allowing the user to create a personalized ranking.

The third, and possibly most important distinction is the CHE’s opposition to ‘league tables’. If the values that create the table are technically arbitrary (because of the weighting and accumulation), the league-table positions create an even worse illusion of distinctive and decisive differences between places. Small differences in scores can translate to huge differences in ranking because of heavy clustering around the mean. An example given by CHE is the Times Higher Education Supplement’s World Ranking of Universities which in the subject cluster SocSci finds a difference of just 4.3 points on a 100 point scale between league rank 33 and 43. In the overall university rankings, there is just a 6.7-point difference between rank 21 and 41 going down to a slim 15.3-point difference between rank 100 and 200.

The CHE approach is to create groups (top, middle, bottom), which refer to the performance of each institution relative to the others. The ranking therefore never tells the user who is the best but maybe who is performing better than average on indicators considered relevant to the user.

January 18, 2009

Making Fast Work of Bologna

A senior Education Ministry official said recently that Germany was making swift progress in the transition to a three-tier system of higher education. Speaking at a symposium in Berlin in the run-up to the Bologna Conference of Ministers this April, Parliamentary State Secretary Andreas Storm told government, higher education officials and students that out of 12,000 programs throughout Germany in the 2008-09 winter semester, around three quarters had been converted to masters and bachelor degrees, compared with just 61 percent a year before. Around two thirds of all first-year students opted for these programs in 2008-09, while in the 2006/2007 winter semester just 44.4 percent had enrolled for masters and bachelor programs.

Storm told those in attendance that Bologna had contributed to what he referred to as a successful modernization of German higher education.

“Bologna is a comprehensive reform process that is providing better links between the individual higher education systems while simultaneously taking advantage of the benefits that the diversity of institutions offers,” Storm said. “Overseas, the ideas and concepts of the Bologna process have met with considerable interest. This is reflected in the dialogue with American, Asian and Latin American experts.”

University World News
February 15, 2009


Bologna and Budapest

Hungary began reforming its education system in line with the broader reforms of the Bologna Process in 2006. The former system consisted of four years of secondary school, five to six years of university or three to four years of college.

The Bologna Process, which aims to establish a common education space across Europe by 2010, cut university entrance exams. It implemented a two-level high school examination and graduation system, similar to the British GCSE and ‘A’ level exams, replacing a complex school-leaving point system.

Under the new system, universities began introducing three-year bachelor’s degrees in 2006. Students and employers are still adapting to the new system, and some interviewed by Cafebabel expressed concerns that employers will be hesitant to employ those graduating from three-year programs in favor of those with traditional five-year degrees. Details at the master’s level are still being ironed out, after being introduced in earnest in 2008.

May 23, 2008


European Court Rules on the Transfer of Professional Qualifications

Each of the 27 member states of the European Union has the right to set minimum qualification standards guaranteeing the quality of professional services within their borders, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

The ruling was based on a 1988 European Union directive on the recognition of higher-education diplomas, which states that professional qualifications, where awarded on completion of professional education and training of at least three years’ duration, gives a holder the right to pursue his or her profession in any EU member state. The same directive states that members also have the right to fix the minimum qualification necessary to guarantee the quality of services provided within their territory.

The judgment came in a case involving an Italian engineer seeking admission to the register of engineers in Italy after gaining an industrial technical engineering certificate from a college in Spain, based on an original qualification he secured in Italy.

University World News
February 15, 2009


Government Announces Scholarship Scheme to Send Students to British Universities

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia has budgeted €50m (US$63 million) to enroll Macedonian students at UK universities for three years starting in the 2009-10 academic year. The government will award the scholarships to graduate students in law, economics, business administration, agriculture, veterinary science, medicine and phyto-sanitary health.

International Unit
February 4, 2009


Elite Business School Grows into University

It is not unusual for universities to create business schools, so it is of note that the IE Business School in Madrid, founded in 1973, decided to reverse the trend and set up its own university. The licensing process in Spain can take up to 15 years, so the business school decided to buy Universidad SEK, an existing higher education institution, and transform it into something new.

The IE University, officially launched under that name in August 2008, is located in Segovia. The business school has already proved highly successful, and one of the university’s declared aims is to transfer its “educational model into the sphere of graduate and postgraduate education”. Every degree will include a module in management, and new bachelor’s degrees covering everything from architecture, biology and communication to law, psychology and tourism management. The university aims to become “one of Europe’s most prestigious centers of learning within ten years, in line with the achievements of our business school.”

Access to the university’s programs, and staff-to-student ratios of one to eight, does not come cheap. Tuition fees are in the “Ivy League” range for both Spanish and foreign students alike, although many American-style scholarships are available. There are already 95 nationalities on campus, roughly the same number as at INSEAD and the London Business School. The declared aim is to achieve a proportion of 80 percent international students.

The institution will be adopting a broadly “Anglo-Saxon” system of qualifications (referring to LLMs, for example, rather than masters in law), in line with the aims of the Bologna Process.

The Times Higher Education Supplement
January 22, 2009

Government Approves National Internationalization Strategy

The Spanish Government has approved the constitution of the Universidades Foundation to promote Spanish universities internationally. The foundation will be central to the nation’s university strategy 2015 (Estrategia Universidad 2015) through the promotion of academic and scientific excellence, and the internationalization of the university system.

Ministry of Science and Innovation
October 28, 2008

United Kingdom

International University Graduates Now 20% of UK Total

More international students than ever are earning British degrees, while the number of UK-based students has leveled off.

New data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that one in five degrees awarded by British universities went to overseas students last year, reigniting fears that the sector relies too heavily on international students. The data for the 2007-08 academic year was released at the end of January, and reveals that the number of UK-based students has virtually stalled with a 1 percent fall to 1,964,315 overall. The majority of degrees obtained by overseas students were at graduate level – 81,480. But large numbers were also awarded first degrees – 52,705.

Over the same period, the number of undergraduate and graduate students in the UK from all other EU countries rose by 6 percent (from 105,410 to 112,150) and by 4 percent from the rest of the world (from 220,575 to 229,640).

Universities have been warned that the market for international students will become even more competitive, despite the weak pound making the cost of UK degrees more attractive (see first Australia piece). In total, there were 2,306,105 higher education enrollments in 2007, showing no percentage change from the previous year.

The Guardian
January 29, 2009

London to Host ‘Olympic University’

British ministers in February announced plans to build an “Olympic university” on the site of the London 2012 games in a bid to secure a long-term legacy for the £9.3billion (US$13 billion) being spent by taxpayers on the event.

The facility is likely to be built within the media village once the games are over. It is part of a range of education facilities planned for the site that include a sports-focused secondary school in the Olympic stadium, an arts academy in the Olympic village and three new primary schools.

The Guardian
February 10, 2009

Domestic and International Applications Surge at Graduate Schools Across Britain as Recession Bites

British universities are reporting a huge increase in applications to their graduate schools as applicants try to boost their job prospects in the current recession. The anecdotal news from universities, as reported by the Guardian newspaper, suggests that the traditional pattern of rising applications to graduate school during times of economic downturn is holding true this time around.

Manchester University has seen a dramatic increase in applications from overseas students looking to enroll in graduate programs. Dr Tim Westlake, director of student recruitment at Manchester, told the Guardian: “Our applications have risen dramatically on this time last year – up 14 percent from home and EU students, and 34 percent from international students.”

Manchester is one of the largest recruiters of international students, with 9,500 applications for 2009, compared with 7,000 last year. At Birmingham University, another large graduate institution, a similar trend is evident. Roderick Smith, director of admissions at Birmingham, said: “We’re up in all areas – home and EU by 8 percent, and overseas by 18 percent to 20 percent for all postgraduate courses. Obviously the UK is cheaper to come to for overseas applicants because of the weak pound.”

Glasgow University has seen a 46 percent rise in graduate applications overall – from 5,000 last year to 7,345 in 2009 so far. Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) has seen a 51 percent increase in applications, with a 54 percent increase from overseas students.

Jacqui Ashmore, SHU’s head of admissions, said: “I know other institutions are seeing similar increases. We don’t have firm evidence to suggest the increase is due to the downturn but it could well be the case and certainly reflects the pattern in previous recessions. It’s a good time for universities.”

The Guardian
February 17, 2009

Universities Nervous About New Student Visa Points System

Britain is getting ready to implement the student part of a new points-based visa system at the end of March, and universities are expressing concern that it will negatively impact their recruitment efforts. In Scotland alone, officials and industry groups are warning that universities stand to lose £50 million a year under the new visa scheme.

With many issues still unresolved, education experts fear the UK will replicate mistakes that the United States made post-9/11 and create a prohibitively complicated system for international students. Universities are concerned that under current proposals student visas will last a maximum of four years, even if a student is on a five-year program such as medicine, dentistry, architecture and veterinary science. They fear that having to apply for an extension after four years will put students off studying in the UK.

In addition, student groups warn that “a plethora of hoops” for international students to jump through, including registering at local police stations and needing security clearance from the Foreign Office to study certain subjects, will further deter overseas students.

The Sunday Herald
February 17, 2009

Posted in Europe, Regional News Summaries