WENR, May 2009: Europe


European Commission Looks at Progress in Educational Structures

Ministers from 46 (mainly European) countries met at the end of April to discuss progress made toward the goal of creating a European Higher Education Area by next year under the tenets of the Bologna Process.  In a pre-meeting memo, the European Commission outlined the progress it felt had been made in the ten years since the Bologna Declaration was signed.

The memo pointed to an “overall picture …  that reveals that substantial progress has been made in all the areas that have been examined, and the benefits of enhanced European cooperation brought about through the Bologna process are evident.” That comment was qualified with a call for “an increased focus on the impact of structural reforms and on how higher education institutions and systems are responding to new challenges.”

The report also noted that “the new three-cycle structure is theoretically fully in place or has at least been extensively introduced in all countries in most institutions and programmes. However, several study fields, such as medical studies, architecture and engineering remain outside these new structures in some countries.”

The memo notes that a first-cycle bachelor program of 180 ECTS credits (3 academic years) has been adopted in 19 countries versus 11 countries that have adopted a 240-credit (4 years) model. At the master’s level, 120 ECTS credits (2 years) appears to be the norm, having been adopted in 29 of the countries analyzed in the report.

– egovmonitor
April 22, 2009

All Master’s Degrees Not Created Equally

Despite progress made through the Bologna Process, not all master’s degrees in Europe are as equivalent as they should be, according to a study [1] released in April by the European University Association [2] (EUA).

A ‘template’ for masters degrees is developing across Europe, albeit in three distinctive forms of course provision: taught masters with a strong professional development application, a research-intensive masters which functions as a pre-doctoral degree, and courses delivered to learners returning to education from the workplace.

The EUA study, based on a survey of European students, universities and employers, looked at how the degree had developed a decade after the Bologna Process was launched.

Author of the study, Howard Davies, said “After a decade of Bologna, the European master and its variants are well established in higher education – and it is recognizable at least to professionals, agencies, institutions and governments.”

The report provides key details of the progress made on master’s degrees. This includes a country-by-country overview of how countries have adopted the cycle into their national higher education systems and how students enter the second cycle.

The report also notes that many barriers to mobility still exist due to issues related to the recognition of prior learning and qualifications. “Mobility instruments”, including the diploma supplement, have yet to reach a point where they are routinely used by employers and institutions.

European Universities Association [1]
April 23, 2009

Tertiary Participation Rates Booming Across Europe

Timed to coincide with the meeting of European education ministers in Belgium at the end of April, the European statistics agency, Eurostat, released tertiary education participation statistics that show increasing participation rates in nearly every European country.

The proportion of tertiary graduates in 2007 was higher among 25-34 year-olds than among 45-64 year-olds in all Member States, except Germany. The highest shares of tertiary education graduates in the youngest age group were found in Cyprus (47%), Ireland (44%), France (42%), Belgium (41%) and Denmark and Sweden (40% each), and the lowest in the Czech Republic (16%), Romania (17%), Slovakia (18%), Italy and Austria (both 19%).

Full statistics from the report, across many educational indicators, are available from: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/x3-28042009-AP/EN/3-28042009-AP-EN.PDF [3].

Eurostat [4]
April 28, 2009

The Competition for International Students

Students looking for an international education have many factors to consider when weighing up which country to study in, and those factors are becoming increasingly diverse as more and more countries vie for their business, a new report argues. At or near the top of any prospective student’s list of considerations is cost, and continental Europe is highly competitive in this arena. The average annual tuition and living expenses in Europe’s number one destination, the United Kingdom, are approximately US$29,000 while in Germany that number is closer to $12,000. Unlike Britain, foreign students in Germany pay the same minimal tuition fees as their German peers, and the country now ranks third in attracting foreign students.

Of course, there are other variables to consider, but cost is likely to become increasingly important the longer the global economic downturn continues. The UK’s main competitors for non-EU international students remain the US, Canada and Australia, but European rivals are becoming ever more competitive. However, the report notes that until now “among the countries studied, those countries charging the lowest tuition fees are not the ones that are the most popular with students, so cost clearly is not the deciding factor.”

Germany poses a “current and future competitive threat” to the UK, while the Netherlands represents a “medium-term” threat, argues the report, published in March by the UK Higher Education Europe Unit [5]. Sweden and Switzerland should be watched carefully, too, the UK Universities and Europe: Competition and Internationalization [6] study found.

The report warns that while the UK is seen as a “success story” in terms of its recruitment of international students and that there “should be no presumption that such success can automatically continue.” Comparatively high tuition fees and living costs may be problematic in the future, as might UK universities’ competitive, rather than collaborative, mindsets towards each other.

The report’s author, Robin Middlehurst, told The Guardian that Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden “are developing collaborative partnerships within and outside Europe that are based on mutual gain rather than financial returns … Maintaining competitive advantage already increasingly lies in a collaborative agenda.”

With Germany, the Netherlands and others targeting the UK’s key markets, such as China and India, and offering an increasing number of English-taught degrees, they are becoming increasingly attractive to international students. The Dutch university sector – although small – is offering an increasing number of joint degree programs with universities abroad.

Germany’s government offers funds to entice international students and develop internationalization. British universities are not permitted to use government funds in this way. Dutch universities are to receive at least $65 million from the government to help make them more attractive to international students.

Universities in continental Europe have used the Bologna Process [7] as an opportunity to learn from, and to partner with, each other. The growing number of continental European networks with English-taught and cross-country study is proof of this. The UK should be doing the same, says Middlehurst. “UK universities should also wish to take full advantage of any strategic opportunities presented through the Bologna Process and related European political developments. Some do, many do not,” she says. British universities have also been very slow to adapt their structures to comply with the Bologna standard. The shorter first and second degrees are making continental Europe much more competitive than previously when they offered much longer, and less understood first degrees.

The report concludes that UK universities cannot afford to sit back and fail to take notice of the competitive threats and potential collaborations now on their doorsteps.

The Guardian [8]
March 31, 2009

Nordic Nations Look to Cash in Foreign-Student Riches

Finland and Sweden are both planning to cash in on the international-student market by charging non-EU students tuition. Proposed changes to the tuition-fee structures in the two nations could see them both compete more aggressively in the lucrative market for international students.

Currently, students from outside the European Union are not charged to attend universities in either country, where they make up only a small proportion of their student bodies. But Finland and Sweden have announced plans to introduce tuition fees for all overseas students, a move they hope will lead to an explosion in their numbers from 2010.

Both countries are particularly interested in the Russian and Asian markets. In addition to bringing in revenue and increasing competitiveness, it is also thought that charging fees could raise the status of their universities among wealthier foreign students, who sometimes assume that if education is free, it is of an inferior standard.

Finnish reforms to facilitate internationalization, due to become law in August, will grant universities independent legal status to allow them greater operational flexibility. The reforms will include charging fees for non-EU students and recruiting academics from overseas.

Concerns have been raised, however, that fees may push international students toward native English-speaking countries, where graduate employment prospects are better. At the moment, getting skilled work in Finland or Sweden is extremely difficult for candidates who do not speak the local language.

Fees would be considerably lower than in the United Kingdom, offering an advantage in an increasingly competitive market. In Finland, fees of between EUR3,500 (US$2,500) and EUR12,500 have been proposed for international masters programs, and in Sweden, a figure of about EUR8,000 has been suggested.

Times Higher Education Supplement [9]
April 2, 2009

Ninth Quality Assurance Agency Approved by European Register

The European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education [10] (EQAR) has approved the Switzerland-based Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation [11] for inclusion on its list of trusted agencies.

The EQAR provides information on quality assurance agencies that have successfully undergone a voluntary external review by independent experts, showing that they comply with the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance [12] (ESG). The EQAR Is designed to provide transparent information on trustworthy and credible quality assurance agencies operating in Europe. Its mission is to further the development of the European Higher Education Area by increasing transparency of quality assurance, and thus enhancing trust, confidence and comparability of European higher education credentials.

The Register began assessing agencies in August 2008 and a list of currently approved agencies is available from www.eqar.eu/register/search.html [13].

JuraForum [14]
April 15, 2009


Institutional-Accreditation Initiative Making Headway

The Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council [15] (FINHEEC) began evaluating Finland’s institutions of higher education in 2005 and it hopes to complete the evaluation process of all 20 universities and 26 polytechnics by the end of 2011.

FINHEEC is an autonomous body with review panels comprised of national and international experts, with secretarial and other support coming from the council’s permanent staff. The council aims to increase the international competitiveness of Finnish higher-education institutions by providing benchmarking data and improvement recommendations, and disseminating information on best practice.

A positive evaluation ends in the award of the council’s seal of approval, good for six years. The seal of approval is dependent on an institution having satisfactory and objective internal quality assurance mechanisms. Of the 10 university audits conducted so far, two universities failed to make the grade. Those that failed are required to address their shortcomings in time for a return evaluation a year later.

The two universities to fail the initial evaluation were the University of Tampere [16] and the Helsinki University of Technology [17] (HUT).

University World News [18]
March 26, 2009


Grant Search for International Students Available Online

The agency responsible for promoting French education abroad recently set up an online directory of grants [19] available for international students who want to study in France.

The CampusFrance [20] directory gives information in French and English for students wanting to study for first-, second- and third-cycle degrees, as well as post-doc opportunities. It lists more than 80 scholarship programs offered by the French government and international institutions, local authorities, companies, foundations, universities and schools of higher education.

University World News [21]
March 29, 2009

French University Officials Stoop to New Diploma-Fraud Lows

Police in France are investigating an alleged diploma-selling scheme in which hundreds of Chinese students were fraudulently given French university diplomas.

According to Le Monde, the fraud began in the 2004-2005 academic year when a Chinese student, who was struggling to get his diploma, began offering bribes to an employee at the Institute of Business Administration (IAE), a part of the University of Toulon [22], in southeastern France. The student was subsequently awarded his diploma.

The fraud was then extended to the student’s friends. According to a source quoted by Le Monde, the fake diplomas cost around €2,700. Last year, one student alone sold close to 300 diplomas. On April 9, the police searched the institute’s premises and seized exam papers written by Chinese students over the last four years.

The head of the institute reportedly told Le Monde that he had been approached by a Chinese student who offered him a €100,000 bribe in exchange for diplomas for about 60 of his fellow students.

After being informed by the police in October of suspicions of fraud, the institution conducted an internal investigation. “We found some troubling details,” Pierre sanz de Alba, the university’s vice-president, told Le Monde. In the two-year entrepreneurship program, every Chinese student graduated successfully, as compared to 60-70 percent of other students.

Other universities are reportedly under suspicion.

France 24 [23]
April 16, 2009


International Enrollments Grow Total Student Body

Enrollments at Swedish universities climbed in 2008 for the first time since the early 2000s, new statistics from the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education [24] show.
A total of 87,000 new students commenced studies at Swedish universities for the 2007/2008 academic year – 5,800 more than the previous year and the first significant rise since 2002, according to the study compiled for the agency by Statistics Sweden (SCB).

Foreign students – defined as exchange students and ‘free movers’ organizing their own studies – have steadily increased in number since the late 1990s and in 2007/2008 accounted for 25 percent of total new enrollments. In 2007/2008, 21,800 students from abroad enrolled at Swedish universities, up from 7,200 in 1998/1999.

The Local [25]
April 27, 2009

United Kingdom

Private Firm Provides Foundation Programs to International Students in Collaboration with Universities

Three universities have partnered with a private company to provide a one-year foundation course to international students who do not meet their entry criteria. Those students would then enter the second year of their chosen undergraduate program, allowing them to graduate in the same amount of time.

Two Scottish institutions, the University of Stirling [26] and Heriot-Watt University [27], already run partnerships with private firm Study Group [28]. They offer courses billed as “a direct path” into the second year of their four-year degrees. English universities are following suit.

In March, Study Group announced a partnership with Keele University [29]. It will charge international students with “top high-school graduation grades” £11,600 (US$17,500) for year-long courses that lead into the second year of some undergraduate degrees. The firm is due to launch a similar course with the University of Huddersfield [30]. Other institutions have similar arrangements with Into University Partnerships [31].

Foundation students need an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of five, versus Keele’s entry requirement of six. Candidates with a score of three can join the course if they study for two additional terms first.

Times Higher Education Supplement [32]
April 2, 2009

Admitting Unqualified International Students

Universities were accused of enrolling unqualified full fee-paying overseas students during the International Baccalaureate Organization [33]‘s (IBO) Information Conference in late March. Robert Blackburn, director of the IBO London, told the conference that he knew of two cases in the past academic year where students with only part of the International Baccalaureate were awarded places.

The Times Higher Education Supplement [34]
April 2, 2009

Aberdeen Investing in Global Talent

The University of Aberdeen [35] has launched a £15 million (US$22 million) recruitment initiative to attract “brilliant men and women” from around the world. Duncan Rice, principal of Aberdeen, told the Times Higher Education Supplement that the institution would invest the money over the next three years to recruit world-leading scholars.

The move follows a similar exercise three years ago, when the university invested £9 million in the appointment of 70 professors and a number of junior academics. Rice said that the recruits must be “exciting enough to take the university in new, creative directions”.

The campaign was launched in the same week that Aberdeen announced that it was considering plans to allow English students with exceptional A-level grades to skip the first year of undergraduate study, shortening the traditional four-year Scottish degree to three years, something U.S. universities have been doing for years for students with top Advanced Placement scores.

The Times Higher Education Supplement [36]
April 2, 2009

Are Despots Funding British Higher Education?

Universities are challenging the contents of a report stating that they are allowing leaders of “despotic” regimes with dubious human-rights records to buy influence through cash donations.

The report, “A Degree of Influence, a report by the Centre for Social Cohesion [37]” lists financial donations from foreign governments to university programs deemed “strategically important” by the British government in April.

It says: “Universities have insufficient safeguards in place to prevent donations affecting the way universities are run. There is clear evidence that at some universities, choice of teaching materials, subject areas, the degrees offered, the recruitment of staff, the composition of advisory boards and even the selection of students are now subject to influence from donors.”

The report says that the terms of agreements with foreign donors – and in some cases even the existence of the donations – are not transparent. And it states that some donations to Islamic studies centers have included clauses allowing the donor significant control.

Universities put into the spotlight by the report, such as Cambridge [38], Edinburgh [39] and the School of Oriental and African Studies [40] denied the claims of the report. In an official statement, the University of Edinburgh noted that the report appeared to have been “poorly researched”.

While most of the influence-peddling allegations were aimed at donations from oil-rich Gulf nations, the CSC report also criticized the establishment of Confucius Institutes [41] at UK universities because the universities are required to accept “operational guidance” from the Chinese Government. Edinburgh said that its annual income from the Chinese Government in support of the Confucius Institute was about £200,000, or 0.036 per cent of its total income.

The Times Higher Education Supplement [42]
April 9, 2009

Britain’s Pakistan Student Visa Problem

Student visas for Britain are big business in Pakistan, with a booming cottage industry of up to 4,000 “education consultants” operating across the country, reports the Guardian. The consultancies help students choose colleges, process paperwork, gain letters of admission and, crucially, obtain a British student visa. The Guardian reports that a small number are respected companies, helping genuine students gain admission to universities and quality private colleges. But many more, according to critics, are shady, often one-room operations above shopping plazas that use the student visa regime as a cover for illegal immigration into the UK.

Last year the British High Commission in Islamabad issued about 10,000 student visas but rejected another 17,000 – in many cases on the basis of fake bank statements, questionable qualifications and admission letters from bogus British colleges. But many slip through the net.

New British regulations are reportedly making it increasingly difficult to get visas. Visa regulations were tightened on April 1. Now prospective students must produce exam results, a bank statement, a letter of acceptance from a British university or college, and a certificate of proficiency in English. The college they apply to must also be certified by the government to enroll foreign students. In addition, British universities are considering establishing an anti-fraud unit to identify falsified applications from overseas students amid concerns that most of those arrested in the north-west of England in April over an alleged terror plot were Pakistanis in the UK on student visas.

The Guardian [43]
April 11, 2009

University Leaders Want Higher Fees, Industry Group Says Increase Affordable

Raising tuition fees from £3,000 ($4,500) to £5,000 ($7,500) a year would not put students off higher education, a March report for university vice-chancellors predicts.
The report, published by Universities UK [44] (UUK), nevertheless warns that students from low-income families would be discouraged if fees rose to £7,000, particularly if they had to take out private loans as well as government student loans.

Not surprisingly, the report provoked outrage from the National Union of Students [45] (NUS). However, a BBC survey of vice-chancellors published in April reveals that most want to see a sharp increase in tuition fees. Two-thirds of those questioned want the cap on fees to be raised and more than half said they wanted it to be raised to £5,000 or more, or to have no upper limit. The BBC survey was carried out in March, and is based on the views of 53 vice-chancellors in England and Wales, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The government has pledged to review tuition fees in England this year.

The Guardian [46]
March 13, 2009
The BBC [47]
March 17, 2009

Nearly 200,000 Study for British Degree Outside Britain

According to new figures [48] from Britain’s Higher Education Statistics Agency [49] (HESA), close to 200,000 students studied for qualifications from 112 British universities outside of Britain last year, earning the sector more than £268 million (US$390 million) in fees.

With student numbers at home restricted by the government, many British universities are looking to expand their offshore operations to students in markets that cannot afford the costs associated with studying in Britain, yet want the perceived prestige of a UK degree. This is the first time HESA has tracked and published such figures, in a sign that offshore provision may well be a growth industry in the continued internationalization of higher education.

Liverpool University [50] and Nottingham University [51] operate probably the most visible offshore operations with joint campuses respectively in Xian [52] and Ningbo [53], China. The University of London [54] and the Open University [55] have the longest established distance learning programs, which account for 63,140 of the 196,000 students taking British courses overseas.

The 2007-08 figures show that more than half of offshore students were on distance learning courses (100,360), while 7,090 were at overseas campuses run by British universities. Most of the remaining 89,190 students were studying for qualifications offered by UK institutions in collaboration with foreign partners.

Four countries – Hong Kong (21,280 students), Singapore (20,845), Malaysia (20,525) and China (10,450) – accounted for 37 percent of total offshore provision. The top 10 universities for offshore students were:

Higher Education Statistics Agency [48]
April 16, 2009

Oldest University in Wales to Disappear Under Merger

Wales’ oldest university, Lampeter, is to merge and lose its name after negotiations started in December last year between Trinity University College [63] and the University of Wales Lampeter [64] resulted in a decision to merge. The two institutions will jointly be known as the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David by July of this year.

The loss of a separate identity for Lampeter after 187 years follows a long period of decline at the oldest – and smallest – degree-awarding institution in Wales. With fewer than 8,000 students, the university has struggled financially. A critical report from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales [65] in June last year called for interim management to be put in place and raised the possibility of a merger to save the institution.

The Guardian [66]
April 17, 2009