Europe wants to introduce unified education standards by 2010. But not all are pulling their weight.
Bachelor's in Madrid, master's in Berlin?
The European Union has managed to harmonize budget, environmental and business policies on many different levels among its member states. But the myriad of education systems spread across the "Old Continent" have so far escaped the international organization's bureaucratic arm.
If education ministers from more than 40 different countries have their way, that will change by 2010.
In the harmonious world of education ministers have promised themselves, a bachelor's degree earned in London will count the same as one earned in Milan. A Ukrainian student with a bachelor's should be able to easily study for his master's in Heidelberg.
But the ideal, which education ministers first crafted during a conference at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1998, is still far from the reality, as education leaders found out in the Norwegian sea town of Bergen this week.
Germany lags behind
Education minsters from the 45 signees of the agreement, including Georgia and Ukraine, met to evaluate the progress made on the plan to align university programs in American-style bachelor's and master's degree programs. Scandinavian countries, as well as Italy and the Netherlands have made the most progress. Germany has been among the lagards.
The Scandinavian countries, as well as the Netherlands and Italy are far ahead of Germany
One of the major reasons is the fact that states, not the federal government, are largely responsible for education policies. Some states have proved stubborn in introducing the bachelor's and master's programs demanded by the agreement, say education experts.
Of the 11,000 degree programs on offer in Germany, only every fourth leads to either a bachelor's or master's degree. Only a third of the 2,500 bachelor's and master's degrees handed out so far in 2005 are actually recognized by the universities and states, according to federal education authorities.
"It just can't be that we're breaking down barriers in Europe and introducing new ones in Germany," said Peter Ziegler, spokesman for the German education ministry.
Companies come on board
His boss emphasized at the meeting that the agreement struck in the Sorbonne in 1998 was the way of the future.
Edelgard Bulmahn says the agreement is the vision of the future
"The vision that students within Europe will one day be able to switch universities and earn degrees anywhere is becoming a reality," said Bulmahn.
One of the major challenges ahead for European ministers is ensuring that the quality of the programs is at the same level. Neither the length of study, nor the number of countries who have introduced the degree programs is yet unified.
Bulmahn is hoping that will change quickly.
"Only in this way can Europe compete internationally for the best minds," she said.
There was some good news to report.
There are signs that indicate that companies are starting to come on board. In Germany, 40 top companies -- including Allianz and Deutsche Bahn -- started an initaitive that aims to increase acceptance of the education agreement.