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  • HE reforms: India vs. Europe

    - India is implementing major changes to its Bachelor/Master system. How does this compare to the Bologna reforms in Europe? “What is needed in India is more freedom both for students and universities,” comment Frits van Merode and Krista Knoppers from Maastricht University.

    India no exception

    An interesting title such as 'Reversed Bologna process in India' invites comments on both the context in India and Europe. While Europe is implementing the Bachelor master system, there are also many differences between countries within Europe. Most countries opt for three year bachelor programmes, but we also see four year bachelor programmes.

    Even more interesting is the difference between countries with regard to master programmes only. We see one year, two year and sometimes even three year masters. In this respect there are many differences between countries, for example, in Germany many masters are two years, whereas in the Netherlands masters on the same subject are one year. This in fact may cause problems with regard to entering the labor market in specific countries. This specifically links the master students and whether they are also required to have a specific bachelor degree or not.

    Bachelor to labor market

    However, as the 'Bologna' 'Bachelor master' system seems to be Anglo-Saxon, there are also important differences between e.g. the United Kingdom and United States on the one hand and the mainland Europe system on the other hand. In the Anglo-Saxon system the bachelor is a degree with which students directly enter the labor markets. Many are not pursuing a master degree, and opt for taking a master's degree later in their career. Bright students going for a PhD don't even take a master at all. Also in Europe some governments hoped that many students would go to the labor market with only a bachelor degree, but in vain.

    What India is doing is not an exception, certainly not compared to the rest of the world, in particular compared to the Anglo-Saxon system. But it is also in line with the intention of some European governments to reduce university education for many students to a bachelor degree. The difference is that some European countries only allow three year bachelor programmes and India four year bachelor programmes.

    More freedom

    Continental Europe so far hasn't been able to fully harmonize their university studies and degrees. The challenge for the Indian government, however, is first to secure quality of their university degrees, secondly their training capacity and thirdly the societal relevance of their university degrees. There are many differences in these respects between universities. But the government is very active to change this. Several bills have passed in the last years, and some are still in progress to achieve these goals.

    The new systems seem to opt for much more freedom for students to determine their study path in the bachelor programme than it used to be. Additionally universities get much more freedom. Some critics may be afraid that these programmes may offer as much freedom as American arts colleges, assuming that this would negatively influence quality, but what is needed in India is more freedom both for students and universities.

    Coming from a historical background where the content, structure etcetera (the 'syllabus') is centrally determined for all universities, freedom is needed to better tailor the needs of both students and the local stakeholders of universities. It is also evident that the Indian government is more in favor of the Anglo-Saxon system than the continental system, and perhaps even more in mainstream trends worldwide.

    Frits van Merode and Krista Knopper
    Maastricht University, the Netherlands