HE reforms: India vs. Europe

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30 januari 2012 | 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 inIndia’ invites comments on both the context in India and Europe.While Europe is implementing the Bachelor master system, there arealso many differences between countries within Europe. Mostcountries opt for three year bachelor programmes, but we also seefour year bachelor programmes.

Even more interesting is the difference between countries withregard to master programmes only. We see one year, two year andsometimes even three year masters. In this respect there are manydifferences between countries, for example, in Germany many mastersare two years, whereas in the Netherlands masters on the samesubject are one year. This in fact may cause problems with regardto entering the labor market in specific countries. Thisspecifically links the master students and whether they are alsorequired to have a specific bachelor degree or not.

Bachelor to labor market

However, as the ‘Bologna’ ‘Bachelor master’ system seems to beAnglo-Saxon, there are also important differences between e.g. theUnited Kingdom and United States on the one hand and the mainlandEurope system on the other hand. In the Anglo-Saxon system thebachelor is a degree with which students directly enter the labormarkets. Many are not pursuing a master degree, and opt for takinga master’s degree later in their career. Bright students going fora PhD don’t even take a master at all. Also in Europe somegovernments hoped that many students would go to the labor marketwith only a bachelor degree, but in vain.

What India is doing is not an exception, certainly not comparedto the rest of the world, in particular compared to the Anglo-Saxonsystem. But it is also in line with the intention of some Europeangovernments to reduce university education for many students to abachelor degree. The difference is that some European countriesonly allow three year bachelor programmes and India four yearbachelor programmes.

More freedom

Continental Europe so far hasn’t been able to fully harmonizetheir university studies and degrees. The challenge for the Indiangovernment, however, is first to secure quality of their universitydegrees, secondly their training capacity and thirdly the societalrelevance of their university degrees. There are many differencesin these respects between universities. But the government is veryactive 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 studentsto determine their study path in the bachelor programme than itused to be. Additionally universities get much more freedom. Somecritics may be afraid that these programmes may offer as muchfreedom as American arts colleges, assuming that this wouldnegatively influence quality, but what is needed in India is morefreedom both for students and universities.

Coming from a historical background where the content, structureetcetera (the ‘syllabus’) is centrally determined for alluniversities, freedom is needed to better tailor the needs of bothstudents and the local stakeholders of universities. It is alsoevident that the Indian government is more in favor of theAnglo-Saxon system than the continental system, and perhaps evenmore in mainstream trends worldwide.

Frits van Merode and Krista Knopper
Maastricht University, the Netherlands

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