Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA)

Germany — Protesting Bologna

November 15, 2010 63 Comments

Ala Al-Hamarneh, University of Mainz

German students have succeeded in putting the authorities under pressure to take financial, administrative and organizational measures to improve the situation in German universities after the implementation of the structural changes of the so-called Bologna Process. One of the major changes was the restructuring of the educational programs from the well-established first degree university certificate based on 10-semester programs of study, the so-called Diploma. A Diploma course of studies included one major and two minors and allowed the students enough time for a semester or more abroad, 2-3 months’ internships and 3-5 months’ time to complete a small research project and to write a thesis. Beyond this, the possibility of part-time employment up to 20 hours per week was included in the general calculations of a Diploma course of studies. The two minors were part of an “encyclopedic” and “all-round” educational system, the aim of which was not only to produce a working force according to the needs of the job market but “citizens” and “intellectuals” as well who are able to be socially and politically active in society.

The introduction of the Bachelor’s/Master’s system, as part of the Bologna Process, aims at a 3-year Bachelor program and 2 year Master’s program which in all practicality disallows minor subjects and leaves little or no time flexibility. The colleges and departments, using the Bologna guidelines designed locally by bureaucrats of the states’ ministries of education, tried to squeeze the workloads and courses of the 5-year Diploma programs into 3-year Bachelor’s programs. In the end, rigid and inflexible educational programs were the results and this has made the students recognize that this is just “how it must have been in the nineteenth century”.

Another major pillar of the Diploma system was tuition-free higher education in order to allow accessibility to tertiary education to young women and men from lower-class backgrounds so that they might benefit from university education and the opportunity of social mobility through education. The former Chancellor Schröder and many other politicians and scientists would not have been able to attend universities if the free Diploma system had not existed.

The Bologna process, the imposing of fees and the temporary selective funding of certain universities and programs (the ‘elite’ university approach of the federal authorities) has motivated the students to fight against the “improvement measures” declared by the federal and state governments. Demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins have taken place in the last 20 months, forcing the authorities to alter and correct the implementations of Bologna resolutions. The students voted for political parties opposing fees in the state elections in Nordrhein-Westfalen (2010) and Hesse (2009) with the result that fees in these two states have been dropped. Two nation-wide strikes in 2009 and 2010 forced the authorities to open a dialogue with the student organizations and universities in the attempt to “reform the reform”. Certain programs and colleges (medical schools, law schools, and some engineering programs) were able from the very first stages of the Bologna reform to negotiate special status in order for them to keep the Diploma structure. Today many colleges are trying to implement a “multiple degree” approach in the same program, where the Bachelor’s/Master’s system and the Diploma system could coexist. Bureaucrats and big business are against such solutions because it would mean more work for authorities and less young Bachelor graduates for businesses who would agree to lower salaries and longer low-paid training periods of months if not years.

One of the main aims of Bologna was to harmonize the educational systems in Europe to encourage student mobility and exchange programs. At the end of the day, Germany and Europe today have less student mobility and dual programs than under the diploma system.

Indeed, changes were necessary. Changes should, however, lead to something better. The Bologna Process has shown its ugly destructive face. Will German students together with those from other affected countries be able to force Bologna to become a constructive process? They are working hard on this in the classrooms, in the job market and on the streets …. Good luck.

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