It seems like a good time to make an interim evaluation of the new two-tier bachelor and master’s degree system in Germany. At the beginning of next year, the first bachelor’s degree students will graduate from Furtwangen University of Applied Science in disciplines including bio- and process technology (BPT) and medical technology (MEB). What does the first generation of bachelor’s students think about their life sciences courses? Karin Bundschuh from the Freiburg BioRegion talked with the University’s academic dean, Professor Anton Karle, and some students.
Furtwangen University was confronted with the government’s decision to drastically change the German higher education system very early on. The biotechnology course that is about to finish was the first course to lead to a bachelor’s degree. And the master’s course in Biomedical Engineering (BME) in Villingen-Schwenningen was set up as early as 2000. “Thanks to our know-how and skills, the Furtwangen and Albstadt-Sigmaringen Universities of Applied Science were asked to set up a pilot master’s course at a university of applied science,” recalls Karle.
At that time, the two-tier concept was completely new. Nowadays, bachelor and master’s degree courses are less of a new idea. Nevertheless, no more life sciences master’s courses have been set up as yet at the Furtwangen and Albstadt-Sigmaringen Universities of Applied Science. Once the first bachelor’s students have graduated, then the universities will be able to assess the demand for master’s degree courses. The majority of students who started the new bachelor’s courses in the winter semester of 2005/2006 are about to do their bachelor’s degree thesis. The Bologna agreements of 1999 have not only led to new names and designations, but also to other important changes at Furtwangen University of Applied Science. The University dropped the introductory practical semesters that students were required to do in a company because it was necessary to reduce study times. “In order not to lose the practical aspects of the courses, we have tried to integrate other practical periods into the curricula,” said Karle. But there are a number of people who have their doubts and think that there is not enough practical work in the new courses.
Although the prorector is convinced that the 5th semester, which replaces one of the original practical semesters, gives the students in-depth practical training, some students would like to have the second practical semester back. “The practical training helps us to gain a greater understanding of the theoretical aspects, but it no longer gives us an idea of what is required in the working world,” said one of the students interviewed. Another student clearly regrets that the first practical semester was dropped, as she felt it was an important tool for students to help in their career decisions. “It is now more difficult for us to decide on a possible future research area.”
Nowadays, students study for a period of three and a half instead of four years. Since the first practical semester was dropped, universities have had to reduce the curricula. Changes in how to teach the content and how the students reach their learning targets were also introduced. “Students have to do tests every semester and they are required to make a more active contribution to their studies than before,” said Karle. The preparation and revision of lectures and participation in tutorials has, in many cases, become obligatory. “We want to accompany students and support them, as well as pushing and challenging them,” said Karle. The different disciplines on a specific course have been harmonised to a greater degree than was previously the case and great care is put into teaching many topics on an interdisciplinary level.
Some of the students believe that the situation will gradually change and that the bachelor’s degree will achieve greater recognition. There is always the possibility of doing a master’s degree. “This gives us the opportunity of taking a great leap forward in a short period of time,” said some students.However, there is no unanimous agreement on whether the shift from Diplom to bachelor and master’s degree has been successful or whether there are still some issues to be ironed out. While some find the new two-tier system fine, others have often felt like experimental animals and have not always been happy with the structural changes and new subject combinations.
Further information:Furtwangen University of Applied ScienceProf. Anton Karle, ProrectorRobert-Gerwig-Platz 178120 FurtwangenTel.: +49 (0)7723/920-2190Fax: +49 (0)7723/920-2618E-mail: karle(at)hs-furtwangen.de