WENR, April 2009: Europe

Mobility Scheme Named as a Driving Force Behind Broader Reforms

A new report [1] states that the European Union’s flagship higher education mobility and cooperation program has been a driving force behind the remake of European higher education. The report says that the Erasmus [2] program has contributed to improving, opening and modernizing European higher education institutions and education policies.

Erasmus has not only benefitted the recipients of mobility grants, but it has also led to innovation in areas such as teaching and learning methods, recognition of study periods, support services for students, research activities, business cooperation, as well as institutional management.

According to Ján Figel, European Commissioner for education, training, culture and youth, “Erasmus paved the way for the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and the Bologna process, under which 46 European countries have agreed to establish a European Higher Education Area by 2010.”

The study is based on a survey of the top management at 750 institutions and more than 1,800 Erasmus coordinators at international offices and faculties.

“This study reinforces my view that Erasmus, which celebrates its 22nd anniversary this year, should be further expanded in the future as a key vehicle for modernizing higher education and promoting mobility opportunities for students,” Figel said.

EU News Release [1]
February 20, 2009

Students Have Their Say on Bologna

In the lead up to this month’s Bologna Process Ministerial Conference [3], more than 100 representatives from 49 student unions across Europe met in Prague in February to draw up a declaration [4] outlining their major concerns. The main point of the declaration stated that the vision of a European Higher Education Area is still a long way from being realized, and currently exists as an ‘à la carte’ mish mash of implementations by country and action line. In particular, students were concerned that reforms relating to the social dimension and mobility are being neglected.

The Ministerial Conference will take place April 28-29 in the Belgian university town of Leuven. Education Ministers from all 46 Bologna signatory countries will review the progress made since the last meeting in London in 2007 and set priorities looking forward.

In relation to the lack of coordination across national borders, the student declaration stated that, “countries have insisted on a ‘pick and choose’ approach to the implementation of the process, neglecting fundamental action lines and resulting in contradictions and inconsistencies. The focus on structural reforms, a divorce between form and content, the misuse of tools, and reforms reducing student participation in institutional governance have led to a feeling of frustration and a reduction in support amongst the student body. The gap between rhetoric and reality needs to be urgently addressed if students, academics and the European public are to retain faith in the process.”

European Student Union [5]
February 10, 2009


University Mergers Scheduled for Next Year

Two Finnish universities will merge next year forming a new University of Eastern Finland [6]. The University of Joensuu [7] and the University of Kuopio [8] will merge to form a new “international and multidisciplinary university” which hopes to be among the country’s elite institutions. As well as the two campuses acquired from Joensuu and Kuopio, the University of Eastern Finland is expected to open a third campus in Savonlinna. Restructuring will result in 13 faculties being amalgamated into four.

Times Higher Education Supplement [9]
March 19, 2009


Students, Lecturers Continue to Protest

France’s universities have been in turmoil for months as students and faculty continue strikes and protests against proposed teacher-training reforms. University presidents have called for a year’s delay in introducing the changes to allow time for reflection and consultation.

Joining school teachers and other workers from the public and private sectors, students and faculty engaged in a day-long general strike in mid-March, during which an estimated million and a half demonstrators marched in Paris and other towns nationwide against the government’s handling of the economy.

After a January vote by lecturers for a “total and unlimited” strike with effect from February, the protest movement has snowballed, with many universities closed or blocked. The government has made concessions on some of its proposals, rewriting a decree that proposed changing academics’ conditions of employment and restoring jobs it had intended cutting. However, as the strike continues, teacher-training reforms continue to take center stage. The reforms would require all new teachers to hold a masters degree in education, raising the minimum qualification from a three-year degree to a master’s (five years) degree, in line with the European Union’s Lisbon strategy.

University World News [10]
March 22, 2009


Industry Presses for Education Reform

Germany’s two biggest industry groups have issued joint appeals for educational reform in four areas to promote “modern and competitive higher education institutions.” Both the Confederation of German Employers (BDA) and the Federation of German Industry (BDI) have stated that Germany needs a steady increase in the number of academics it produces if the country is to remain competitive in the global knowledge economy.

The demands, formulated at the recent Joint Presidium of the BDA and the BDI, focus on the key issues of institutional autonomy; raising graduate numbers; increasing access to higher education to those without a formal certificate of secondary education; boosting graduate further education; and redirecting higher education funding towards investment.

University World News [11]
March 1, 2009


Universities Open Doors Wide as Economy Brings Nation to Its Knees

While the banks, stock market and krona may have collapsed in Iceland in the last four months, universities have increased first-time enrollments as much as five-fold; more evidence that economic decline can be good news for universities.

With the unemployment rate increasing almost ten-fold in recent months (from 0.8 to 10 percent), the nation’s largest public university admitted nearly five times as many new students this semester, compared with the same time last year. The University of Iceland [12], by far the largest of the nation’s seven universities and colleges, hopes the government will find the funds necessary to meet the increased demand. Authorities have said they hope to insulate universities from severe budget cuts, realizing that higher training should help the country get back on its feet.

Higher education is essentially free at Iceland’s three state-financed universities, where students’ out-of-pocket expenses are limited to an annual registration fee of approximately US$395. The Ministry of Education [13] estimates that overall college enrollment jumped by 5 percent nationwide this semester, with humanities and social sciences the most popular fields of study.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [14]
March 6, 2009


Higher Education Reform Legislation Introduced

Following the reforms made in the schools sector in 2008, the Italian government has now turned its attention to universities, with the introduction of legislation covering a range of reforms aimed at improving the transparency, governance and financial performance of Italian institutions of higher education.

Australian Education International [15]
February 21, 2009


Students Protest Bologna Reforms

University students hit the streets of Barcelona in March to protest planned education reforms. Students clashed with police, resulting in many injuries, during two city-center protests in mid-March after police forced students out of a university office they had occupied since November.

Groups of university students across Spain have been protesting for months against changes proposed under the Europe-wide Bologna Process reforms. Spanish students believe the reforms are likely to benefit wealthier students who can pay for postgraduate specialization.

The Associated Press [16]
March 19, 2009


Bill to Reform Secondary Grading Scale Introduced to Parliament

Swedish secondary schools will soon be using a new grading scale, if a bill working its way through Swedish parliament is enacted into law.

Instead of using the grades MVG, VG, G and IG starting in grade 8, there would be a seven-tier grading system ranging from A (Excellent) to F (Fail) and G (Fail). Students would be graded in this manner from grade six onwards.

Australia Education International [17]
February 25, 2009

United Kingdom

New A-level A* Grade Gets Mixed Reviews

A new top A-level grade will be introduced for A-level takers in 2010 in a bid to combat grade inflation in the school-leaving examinations. A rift over the use of the new elite grade is developing among universities, some of which say they will reject it, while others say they will use it to distinguish the cream of the crop in their admissions process.

Oxford [18], Warwick [19] and the London School of Economics [20] were among 13 universities confirming they would not favor students applying to their schools with A* A-level results. It comes despite moves by others – including Cambridge [21], Bristol [22], Imperial College London [23] and University College London [24] – to accept the new top grade.

Students will need to score approximately 90 percent in test papers to be awarded one of the elite grades. The introduction of the new grade was introduced following concerns that universities now find it almost impossible to select the best candidates after rapid growth in the number of students receiving straight As.

Cambridge confirmed in March that most students would need at least one A* to get an undergraduate place. The Daily Telegraph surveyed other top universities to find out how many would follow.

The Daily Telegraph [25]
March 18, 2009

Hundreds of Colleges Barred from Enrolling International Students

Under newly enacted immigration regulations [26], more than 400 colleges and schools have been denied permission to enroll international students. The new controls are designed to prevent bogus institutions and students from entering Britain.

The UK Border Agency [27] (UKBA) has ruled against approximately 460 of more than 2,100 organizations under new rules intended to ensure that non-EU students are abiding by the terms of their student visas, and that their host institutions monitor this properly.

Although most college and university administrators support the new rules, there is also a degree of anxiety that they may deter international students, who last year paid tuition fees worth a total of £2.5 billion (US$3.6 billion). Institutions wanting to enroll foreign students must apply to the UKBA for a license. Before coming to the UK, foreign students need to prove they have a place at a licensed college, university or school and that they can support themselves for nine months. They must also give their fingerprints to the UKBA.

The new points system, organized according to five “tiers” or categories – highly skilled migrants, skilled migrants, unskilled workers, students and temporary workers – was launched a year ago. Tier 3 – unskilled workers – remains suspended.

The Guardian [28]
March 31, 2009