WHICH UNIVERSITY, WHICH COURSE OF STUDY?
Tips for people with advanced school-leaving qualifications, by Prof. Dr. Stefan Bieler, President of the FHDW Hannover
Herr Bieler, why do school-leavers find it so difficult nowadays to find the right subject to study?
The study courses’ curricula used to be almost identical at different universities. From an academic point of view it normally did not matter much whether you studied Business Studies in Munich, Mannheim or Hamburg. Those days are over as a result of the Bologna process causing an outbreak of "reformitis" at all German universities, where not only the qualifications but also the ideas behind the courses are being changed. That is why parents’ relatives’ and friends’ experience is of only limited value - and so many school-leavers are absolutely confused.
When will the situation calm down?
The transition phase is far from over. Of course, in the meantime most study courses have changed over to Bachelor degrees. But particularly in Engineering and Law courses at university much has remained unchanged. People starting their studies now are faced with the decision whether to choose a Bachelor course, a “Diplom” or the state examination. It is not just a question of the title but also of content. For Bachelor programmes the four or five-year “Diplom” courses have been shortened – many universities had to think about what the core contents of their courses were and what could be left out. This resulted in varying curricula – no matter whether the subject was Business Studies, Computer Sciences or Psychology.
How far in advance should a future student plan his or her studies?
Everyone should start thinking very early on whether he or she would prefer to study an applied course or one which is research-oriented. Most people, however, do not develop a concrete idea of their future choice of career until they have begun studying. This is the very root of the problem. The choice of a Bachelor course can under certain circumstances put paid to some Master’s courses. Someone who does an applied course in Engineering or Computer Sciences for instance may not have acquired the required breadth of contents for a Master’s programme, due to concentrating on certain segments or functional areas.
Isn’t it true that with a Bachelor’s degree in your pocket you can always begin a Master’s course?
Yes, it is but not every Master’s course. It is particularly true for the so-called follow-up or consecutive Master’s courses. These expand or deepen the knowledge acquired in a Bachelor programme and thus often transfer the contents of the “Diplom” courses by passing them on to the new degrees system. Approximately two thirds of all Master’s programmes fall into this category. The rest are non-consecutive courses which are supposed to broaden the knowledge acquired in the Bachelor course for instance by providing an engineer with business know-how. They count as “studying for a second degree” and cost money.
What advice would you give to first term students or students changing subjects?
They really need to find out in great detail about the contents and the profile of the courses they are considering doing. This is the very area where school leavers have problems. Surveys show that only about one quarter of them feel adequately prepared to choose where and what to study. Parents, friends and teachers are all unable to give them sufficient help here. They should make use of the student advisory services at the universities, attend classes in the relevant study courses and speak to students about their experiences.