Monday, November 06, 2006

Bologna Degrees

An interesting article from a recent issue of insidehighered.com brings to light the move towards curtailing the length of time needed to obtain a bachelor's degree in Europe. Dubbed the "Bologna Process" after the venerable Italian city, home to the purported Harvard of Italy, where EU member nations agreed to begin harmonizing academic standards. Apparently it's becoming all the rage in Europe to pair down the average BA course of study to three years. The basic question presented is whether American graduate programs should admit students who apply after completing a three year degree.

Stanley O. Ikenberry, former president of the American Council on Education and the University of Illinois, moderated the sessions, and introduced the discussion by asking his American colleagues to imagine the world with “an academic Euro,” in which European diplomas matched the clout that has increasingly come to the common European currency.

Ikenberry stressed that American educators couldn’t assume that the issue wouldn’t hit them. The Bologna Process goes far beyond just ensuring comparable degrees to encouraging European students to move about. “Mobility in and of itself is being valued,” he said.

And the message from most European academics at the conference was that American graduate schools have no business thinking that a three-year degree represents any less preparation than a four-year degree awarded in the United States.


Having some experience with European higher ed, conveniently obtained while studying in Bologna, the matter seems a no-brainer. After many nights spent observing the locals in their natural habitat, namely bars and clubs, it struck me that European undergrads are a complacent bunch. More than a few manage to squeeze a four year course of study into five or six before finally obtaining their laurels. If European universities can trim the time it takes to get to a degree, without seriously impairing the quality of instruction, why not admit the resulting graduates. It seems students able to complete such an intensive course of study, in an environment fraught with distraction and devil-may-care attitude, are a particularly motivated bunch. Just the sort we want to encourage to emigrate. It takes brain power, motivation, and discipline to and keep our city on a hill racket running smoothly. Assuming the graduates of three year programs are as motivated as they appear, the least we can do is put out the welcome mat and register them with tax and revenue.

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