A new survey shows German companies are losing confidence in the bachelor's degree system introduced over the past decade. But academics say industry is expecting too much of university graduates.
Bachelor's degrees are relatively new to Germany
The German private sector is losing some of its faith in the bachelor's degree system recently phased in at universities across the nation.
In a new survey conducted by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), only 63 percent of German firms said job applicants with a bachelor's degree fulfilled their expectations. This compares to 67 percent in 2007.
At the same time, 15 percent of the companies surveyed complained of lack of practical experience in the potential new recruits – twice as many as in 2007.
"There was always criticism that students don't get enough practical experience during their degrees," Kevin Heidenreich, the education specialist at the DIHK who carried out the survey, told Deutsche Welle."It's not just the economic or the technical degrees, but also the humanities subjects."
The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce carried out the survey
Heidenreich said schools often did little to help students think about the future. "Some schools ignore the fact that 90 percent of graduates end up working in companies," he said. "Sometimes you get the feeling that a lot of teachers are just training up professors."
The researcher said this was especially problematic at universities, where many academics have been reluctant to replace the traditional "Diplom" and "Magister" programs with bachelor and master's degrees. "Technical colleges have developed a bit further, while the vocational colleges often work very closely with companies," Heidenreich said.
"On the other hand, the companies often don't know what treasures are stuck in these courses," he added. "Some schools of higher education have cut the practical semester – which of course doesn't do much for the employment chances of the graduates."
This was the exact opposite of the method recommended by the private sector, which wanted to see more practical phases added to university courses, including obligatory internships, project work and lectures given by business leaders. Though no reliable statistics are available, the German Rectors' Conference (HRK), a body representing schools of higher education, estimates that only one in 10 university courses require a semester of practical experience.
Patrick Honecker, spokesman for the University of Cologne, says the universities take a slightly different view, as they have an academic reputation to defend. "When bachelor's degrees were introduced, industry expected them to be more job-orientated," he told Deutsche Welle. "But the universities of course wanted to make sure that academic content was preserved in the new courses, and that you still had the possibility to develop intellectually."
"After all, it's not just about making people employable, it's about transmitting values," Honecker added. "I think industry and academies need to come a little closer together with their expectations."
Before bachelor programs were introduced, German degrees often took 10 or 12 semesters
Bachelor's degrees were introduced in Germany as part of the Bologna Process, agreed by 29 European education ministers in 1999, which aimed to unify the European higher education system. There was also considerable pressure from German industry to shorten study times.
These demands were fulfilled, with the average German bachelor's degree taking six or seven semesters to complete.
Honecker admits the introduction of the bachelor's degree was a useful reform, though with some caveats. "We believe the transfer was generally successful," he said. "But what we don't regard as successful is the idea of transferability."
"One of the aims of the reform was to make it easier to switch countries and continue your studies elsewhere. We think the conditions for this are still too strict, and not enough students get the chance to live abroad."
Heidenreich was careful to point out that no company wanted Germany's old diploma system back.
"Study times were really much too long. It lasted 10, 11, 12 semesters, or even longer," he said. "The bachelor's - master's system simply fits well with the modern work system. There are just some problems with the application."
"One explicit aim of the Bologna reforms was to increase employability, and that has not yet been achieved 100 percent."
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Sam Edmonds