European higher education changes, impact discussed at ISU

November 14 2007

TERRE HAUTE â€" Changes in European higher education could have a lasting impact upon education in the United States, a European researcher informed faculty at Indiana State University on Monday.

Johanna Witte, a senior researcher at the Bavarian State Institute for Higher Education Research and Planning in Munich, Germany, spoke about the ongoing innovation in higher education and what that means for American colleges and universities.

“This is far beyond the borders of the European Union,” Witte said.

Thus far, 46 countries from Albania to the United Kingdom and including the Russian Federation and the Holy See, have agreed to what is being called the Bologna Process from a 1999 meeting in Bologna, Italy, when 29 countries signed a declaration about developing a higher education area with massive changes to be completed by 2010. It is an idea that developed from higher education institutions and not from the European Union, Witte said.

“This topic of reform in Europe is largely not on the radar of anyone in higher education in the U.S.,” said Joshua Powers, ISU associate professor and chair of the department of educational leadership, administration and foundations.

He called the changes in Europe extraordinary, especially with the differences in education institutions, languages and history.

“They are truly working toward having a system of higher education that no one thought was possible for them to do,” he said.

Witte said the idea started to make European higher education more attractive and competitive with the rest of the world, with most eyes turned toward the United States, which has the largest number of international students studying abroad. They also wanted to create a common degree structure, improve quality of higher education and introduce ways to facilitate the mobility of students and degrees.

Witte said studies show that international student numbers are shifting and the number attending school in the United States is declining, but she acknowledged it was due to several factors and not just the Bologna Process.

Under the prior European system, students could study for five years or more and receive a diploma. Although not specified in the Bologna declaration, many European universities have begun moving toward a three-year bachelor’s degree, which can then be followed by a master’s degree and a doctorate.

“It was thought to be a role model and many universities started implementing it,” Witte said.

Under the three-year model, Witte said it is as if the students are missing their freshman year, not their senior year.

“General education is provided in secondary schools,” she said.

Some schools in Europe are kindergarten through 13th grade, while others are kindergarten through 12th grade. Witte acknowledged when it comes to the secondary education and its impact upon higher education that is where the Bologna Process needs to also direct attention.

After Witte’s presentation, faculty and administrators broke into discussion groups to talk about three-year bachelor degrees, outcomes-based quality assurance, student mobility, and course transferability and reinventing the credit hour. The purpose of the discussion was to identify ways the Bologna Process might assist U.S. higher education challenges. Powers said information from those meetings would be given to not only ISU officials, but also to key administrators and policy makers in Indiana.

“We think that change is difficult,” said Karen Schmid, associate vice president of academic affairs and associate professor of family and consumer sciences. “When you reflect on European higher education, many of their universities are 1,000 years old, but they are able to do this in 10 years. They are able to do this across languages and histories.”

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Contact: Joshua Powers, associate professor and chair of the department of Educational Leadership, Administration and Foundations, at (812) 237-2900 or at jopowers@indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, at 812-239-7972 or at jsicking@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Johanna Witte, a senior researcher at the Bavarian State Institute for Higher Education Research and Planning in Munich, Germany, spoke about the ongoing innovation in higher education and what that means for American colleges and universities.

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