Grad schools grapple with Europe’s new college plan

By Joel Lanceta

The University’s Graduate Schools are expecting difficulties with a broad new European plan that harmonizes the continent’s fragmented educational system but reduces the undergraduate education to three years.

Chicago does not officially recognize the new three-year degrees—dubbed the “Bologna process” after the Italian city where it was founded—highlighting differences between American and European higher education systems.

“In general, we recognize the three-year degrees from the UK, but we have not usually admitted students whose total number of years heading up to graduate school do not add up to the same number of years required for U.S. students in general,” said Lois Stein, the dean of students in the Social Sciences division.

She said that while the University has yet to specifically respond to the Bologna process, the general consensus is that when the University receives applications from graduates of the three-year degrees, they will not be looked upon favorably.

The Bologna plan is a massive undertaking by European universities, started in 1999 to harmonize the continent’s collegiate system into a more comparable, compatible and coherent environment of higher education between nations. The objective, called the European Higher Education Area, will allow greater academic mobility for undergraduate and graduate students in Europe to study in different countries, permitting students to earn a bachelor’s degree in one country and then to receive a masters’ in another.

Many of the programs initiated by the Bologna process are replacing the traditional German university model of the late 19th century, on which the University of Chicago was based.

According to Tamara Felden, the director of the Office of International Affairs in the University, the University is currently assessing the new three-year degrees, since it anticipates receiving applications from European students who have completed the three-year degree program. She emphasized that the first Bologna class graduated this past spring.

Forty European nations signed the Bologna declaration, recognizing the three-year undergraduate degrees and two-year master’s degrees.

According to an October 5 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent survey of admissions officers at 90 higher-education institutions in the United States and Canada found that 68 percent said they would consider only applicants who had degrees from four-year undergraduate programs.

Among administrators, there is a sentiment that the extra year in college is beneficial for two reasons, according to Stein. ” It will allow them to receive a broad liberal education, and the time spent as an undergraduate gives sufficient preparation for the students in their specialization,” Stein said. “Also, many students applying abroad apply after earning a master’s degree to increase their graduate opportunities.”

Stein added that the Bologna process is a new consideration for admissions of international students in the University. While there are no conclusions yet on the program, Stein said, the University will probably stand by their recommendation of four undergraduate years.

Felden said that the University will evaluate the Bologna process with other universities and information provided by the Association of International Educators and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers.

“We will do this by an extensive comparison of sample European credentials earned outside of the context of the Bologna process, sample credentials resulting from the Bologna process, and sample credentials from U.S. institutions,” Felden said. “By the time applications for fall 2005 are received, the University anticipates having developed a policy regarding credentials earned under the Bologna process.”

Winnifred Sullivan, the dean of students at the Divinity School, said that European students applying to the school have already gotten their masters’ degrees and are earning their Ph.D.s.

“We don’t have a large amount of students applying for masters’ abroad because of the limited number of full scholarships we can provide,” Sullivan said. “We have a highly individualized application review system; we consider the number of years spent on each degree and the transcripts and scores of the students.”