"Study and work abroad!”"
Quick, practically oriented and, above all, international: The new bachelor and master’s degrees in the natural sciences have been introduced to bring German university qualifications into line with the requirements of the international job market as well as to facilitate the uncomplicated exchange of scientists across the globe. However, not everything always works out as planned. Research abroad is often limited by time and money.
Experiments in the laboratory, writing protocols and solving analytical queries: Sandra has a great deal of work to do during the short summer semester. The 22-year-old student has been studying at the University of Hohenheim for almost a year and is one of the first bachelor’s degree students at Hohenheim University. Hohenheim enrolled the first bachelor’s degree students on its “Biological signals” research priority in autumn 2007. “I have always had good marks for my work in the natural sciences and I really enjoy practical laboratory work. In addition, I plan to work abroad,” said Sandra who still has a lot of test results and laboratory courses ahead of her before she graduates in about two years’ time.
International education and research
The bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Hohenheim was introduced to give students a basic grounding in biology and to prepare them for research work in the future. Those who set up the course also hope that the bachelor’s degree will open up new job opportunities, including for graduates without a traditional scientific background. The overall objective is to reduce the length of study and to increase practical education. And it is also hoped that a bachelor’s degree will allow students to study and work in any country they want. The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and the internationally recognised Bachelor of Science degree allow students and graduates to study and research abroad. German Diplom students often found it very difficult to get their degree recognised outside Germany. “In contrast to the internationally known “Diplomingenieur” (graduate engineer), the German Diplom is often compared to a bachelor’s degree,” said Christine Donat from the International Academic Office at the University of Hohenheim. “This means that German students can only do master’s degree courses abroad after they have graduated with a German Diplom,” said Donat. The introduction of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Germany to replace Diplom degrees will give German students the same opportunities as their foreign counterparts.
The new degrees will lead to greater mobility
The replacement of the biology Diplom course in Hohenheim by a two-tier master and bachelor’s system was agreed as part of the Bologna Process. The first such changes occurred as long as nine years ago. At present, about 67 per cent of all degree courses at German universities and universities of applied science offer bachelor and master’s degrees. Hohenheim University enrolled 80 bachelor’s degree students in biology last winter semester. The next few semesters will show how prepared the students are for study abroad. Hohenheim offers numerous exchange programmes with universities worldwide.
It is not always easy to do further studies abroad – for a number of different reasons. Many countries have different semester systems. For example, a university year in Germany consists of two semesters whereas England and Italy have trimesters. A great deal of effort is being put into harmonising the actual degrees, but term lengths remain different. In addition, each individual university in Germany and abroad has the right to decide on the credits and certificates of qualification students have to present before being accepted on a course.
Few natural scientists are studying abroad
Whether it be Diplom, bachelor or master’s students, there is very little variation in the numbers of students who chose to study abroad: Over the last few years, students have become less and less interested in studying abroad. “The number of students doing part of their studies abroad is below average compared to other subjects,” said Gregor Fabian from the Higher Education Information System (HIS) in Hanover, Germany. “The introduction of bachelor’s courses in Germany has led to an even greater decrease in the desire to study abroad. This could be due to the high requirements placed on the students or to time constraints,” said Fabian.
The bachelor’s course is very intensive and the students’ timetables are full. Many students do not tend to even consider the possibility of studying abroad until the fourth or fifth semester. But this is often too late because many of them then have to concentrate on their final examinations. A study of the German Studentenwerk (organisation providing social, financial and cultural support services to students in Germany) on the internationalisation of studies has confirmed this trend. At the end of the regular study period, only about 17 per cent of all bachelor students had done subject-related studies abroad. In contrast, 30 per cent of all master’s degree or Diplom students had done part of their studies abroad.
A master’s abroad
Students interested in basic research need more than a bachelor’s degree. Master’s degrees and PhDs are a must for those who want to work in scientific institutions or pharmaceutical companies. Practical training, studies or language courses abroad are also regarded as very positive.
While German students are still slightly reluctant to go abroad, the introduction of bachelor and master’s degrees at German universities has attracted greater numbers of foreign students. The new courses are very popular with students from all over the world, in particular China, Bulgaria, Poland and other European countries. The majority of students choose courses in business studies, engineering sciences or the natural sciences. Students come to Germany not only expecting an excellent education but also hoping to improve their career prospects or to learn German.
Each faculty makes its own decision
In Hohenheim, the master’s courses “General and molecular biology” and “Organismic biology and ecology” will, in all probability, be offered from 2010 onwards. At least 300 ECTS credits are required for the courses and foreign students with fewer credits could find it difficult to get a place. The recognition of certificates of qualification from foreign universities has been simplified, but it is still up to the individual faculties to make the final decision on whether qualifications are acceptable or not.
Sandra, who we introduced at the beginning of this article, also plans to go abroad, perhaps to New Zealand or the USA. But she has no idea whether she will have enough time. Her full timetable is a huge problem and she is not entirely sure whether any course she chooses to do will be recognised when she returns to Germany. She is financing her studies herself. Can she afford to go abroad? Despite all these issues, Sandra is very pleased to have the possibility of being able to study and work in any country she chooses. Maybe she’ll wait until she is ready to do her master’s degree course. She has already decided to do a master’s, but is leaving it until next year to decide whether she will remain in Hohenheim or go abroad.