On Campus

Messy Bologna

A pretty good synopsis of the Bologna process appears today in Times Higher Education. One of the principal issues is the over 40 participating countries attempting to find equivalency standards for master’s degrees. The UK offers a number of one-year programs, where elsewhere in Europe two-years is the norm:

At the heart of the debate is the British one-year masters degree. The accord does not require a two-year masters degree, but most European universities offer a qualification of this type as standard. Across continental Europe, the masters is a research-intensive course aimed at preparing students for a PhD and a career in academia. In the UK, it performs a quite different function – offering the high-level professional skills required by the workplace.

As such, the one-year masters offered by UK universities could be seen as minimalist, even lazy. According to the Hepi report: “If the Bologna brand were to become well established, and if the UK was seen not to be ‘Bologna-compliant’ – and there are undoubtedly a number of our competitors who would like to create that impression – then that could damage the UK’s attractiveness to international students. That is one reason why perceptions of aloofness from the Bologna Process, however unfair, could damage UK universities in the long term.”

The problem remains that Bologna was set up to ensure equivalence across Europe and the masters is a clear sticking point. The Norwegian Council of Universities has already publicly stated that it does not consider a one-year masters to be suitable preparation for a PhD.

Any misunderstanding of what a masters degree aims to do could threaten the status of UK universities, and particularly employer-facing institutions such as business schools.

I’m not familiar with two-year European master’s degrees, but in Canada this seems to not be an issue. At a number of Canadian schools, one-year master’s degrees are offered and are seen as sufficient preparation for the PhD. For example, at Waterloo my degree is designed to be completed within three straight semesters or 12 months, whereas at other schools the program is designed to be completed in two years. If they break for summer, it is only the difference between three and four semesters.

When I was comparing different graduate programs, I found that the degree requirements were roughly the same between one and two year master’s degrees. The only downfall I can see of the one-year degree is that it limits time for reflection which plays a pivotal role in academic work.

Anybody have anything to add?

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