Enthusiasm varies across eastern Europe

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Evelyn Bidenkova is not paid to advocate the Bologna process, but given her enthusiasm for it you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Although as she admits, not all her co-students would agree.

Ms Bidenkova, 27, is close to finishing her MSc in Business Administration and Management at the University of Economics, Prague, which adopted the three-plus-two year degree form a year ago.

The change meant running a gamut of changes.

“It was quite an upheaval. The faculty of management and business changed its whole credit system and curriculum. Some courses of the common base were merged; some were cancelled; some had the requirements for passing changed,” she says.

The school made huge efforts to explain the change but she says some students found the affair bewildering and wearying.

“We had to go to secretaries again and again, waiting in never-ending queues and run from one department to another to have completed courses accredited to a new system, or annoyingly learn that the course you had passed was merged with another, and to have this accredited you would have to pass one more course,” she says.

She has an international career in mind and understood the changes, so this was a regrettable though necessary chore. But for those with no ambition to study abroad or gain international experience, it was tough going. Despite the time and trouble, she views the changeover as “absolutely worthwhile!”

She cites the emphasis on content and quality as an example. “You no longer feel you are ‘underpaid’ with credits when some course is more difficult. For example, in the former system, banking and sociology had same amount of lecture hours per week, and so carried equal credits. But banking is far tougher than sociology, so this was not fair. This has been corrected,” she says.

And as a further plus, Ms Bidenkova says the system changes the style of teaching. The aloof, distant droning professor is out; in is a consultative, co-operative relationship between student and teacher.

“The courses are now based on our own work and students are given more tasks, so they need to consult the professor more. Every student is encouraged to do that,” she says.

Such a positive testimony to Bologna will be interesting material for students at Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary, and the Warsaw School of Economics, Poland.

Both universities, though active in the international co-operation and exchange of students within the Socrates-Erasmus Project and within the CEMS network, are only now undergoing the changeover to three-plus-two.

The delay, say both schools, is because of conservatism. “In Poland we do not have a strong tradition of bachelor degrees. For many people the only real qualification is the masters, and most full-time students preferred the regular five years masters studies. To them, the obligatory separation between two levels of education [undergraduate and graduate] seems artificial,” says Tomasz Dolegowski, head of the international competitiveness unit at the Warsaw School of Economics.

He sees the new-style courses as a more flexible model with better prospects for changing universities, but fears the best graduates of undergraduate programmes will continue education abroad, while Warsaw may not attract a similar number of good graduates from abroad.

“So the question is how to organise education here in Poland so as not to be a mere ‘supplier’ of relatively good students for the foreign graduate and doctoral programmes,” he says.

At Corvinus, the new-style undergraduate business programme starts this month, but the two-year MSc is not expected to get underway until 2008. Although in theory migration from the old to the new course could occur, he thinks in practice almost all current students will complete the old-style five-year masters.

“We do not feel the urge to sweep away the old system. Many others, for example the Germans, have taken a similar approach. Employers are familiar with the degrees, and our students have no trouble finding jobs. I think most are pretty satisfied with the system,” says Istvan Bartok, associate dean for academic affairs at Corvinus.

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