University: A taste of academia bolognaise
26 November 2009
European university reforms keep rocking the Continental campus. For several weeks now, German students have been objecting to the excessive workload and deplorable conditions at university. And the row over the merits and demerits of the “Bologna process” is raging all across the nation’s press.
First Austria, now Germany. 10 years after the Declaration was signed in Italy, the Bologna process, launched to pursue the ideal of a “European Academic Area”, has been contested since the autumn term started. For the first time since the revolutionary days of the 1960s and ’70s, students, student leaders and faculty are forming a united front, reports the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The students are groaning under the yoke of an “over-regimented curriculum”, explains the Munich-based daily; the newly-imposed strictures make it impossible to fill the cultural lacunae left over from high school. The professors, for their part, are in thrall to the “dictates of efficiency” and international rankings, for which they are expected to do research, publish as much as possible and waste a huge amount of time – better spent on teaching and research – searching for funding.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung finds the movement wholly justified, even if “the students are mixing up educational and social policy”. On the other hand, “The protests against tuition fees – which are, incidentally, quite modest in Germany compared to other countries – are a mistake.” “The students are not only pursuing rational objectives (‘Rich parents for everyone!’),” adds the Berlin Tageszeitung. “They are turning against reforms that have been lowering on the horizon for some time now: reforms that make a clean sweep of educational notions dating from the 19th century. The bachelor’s degree does away with the idea that everyone who goes to university wants to become, or has to become, a teacher. So it is only fair to divide up the curriculum into ‘studyable’ chunks.”
Study, a strenuous activity
The alternative daily concedes, however, that “the students are going on an arrogant assumption”, namely that “education should be disinterested and solely serve the purpose of personal development. It is all too German to take refuge in Romantic notions – and not to lay a finger on the undemocratic education system.”
Meantime the number of students is hitting record highs. This year, notes the Süddeutsche Zeitung, more students than ever before enrolled for the first term: 423,000, which corresponds to 43.3% of their age group. From an economic perspective, this trend makes the Bologna process indispensable, insists the Handelsblatt. “Nobody dares tell students that studying was always strenuous. How did that work in the past? Oodles of students wasted their time because there was no structure and they were left to their own devices.” While admitting the curriculum is too tightly regimented, the business daily says the shorter and more flexible programmes introduced by Bologna are the wave of the future.
The government still don’t know their stuff, bewails Jürgen Kaube in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Does German education minister Anette Schavan “know the universities? Does she know how professors who’ve been lured into research by ‘excellence programmes’ get out of undergraduate teaching? Has she heard talk about the fact that ‘Bologna’ is demoralising students pretty much across the board by inciting them to purely tactical approaches in order to obtain the requisite marks? That the pleasure of studying is waning because all they see is an obstacle course?” And “does she know that at Oxford or Zurich, they split their sides laughing if someone comes along and asserts his right to higher education by brandishing his German bachelor’s degree?”
So is Bologna a neoliberal reform? – Quite the contrary, argues sociologist Armin Nassehi in the FAZ. “It reeks of socialist five-year plans,” he writes. “As in the Eastern bloc’s planned economy, where they worked out the carrot harvest over five years, down to the last root, the new curricular ideal seems to be a completely controlled itinerary.” Nassehi says students would be well-advised to call for a truly liberal reform that would allow them to develop personalised courses of study. In Europe, he concludes, not everything should be equal.