Month: January 2017

A Brief Overview of Higher Education in France

From the uniformity of laïcité (secularism) to the leftist ideals of the incumbent Socialist party under François Hollande, France has a pronounced legacy of embodying a tame adaptation of Democratic Socialism among industrialized nations. One need look no further than the French higher education system to witness an institutionalization of égalité.

Upon completion of secondary school coursework, students seeking to continue their studies must take a series of exams based on the track of study they pursued in lycée. The three main strata for the baccalauréat (truncated as le bac) are the Bac Général, which has “streams” in science, literature, and social and economic sciences, the Bac Technologique which specializes in sciences, technology, music, dance, and hotel management, and the Brevet de Technicien, which allows access to non-university technical programs in areas like manufacturing and industrial studies. Passing one of these three exam series guarantees admission to French higher education. Those who choose not to pursue a baccalauréat may finish their studies one year early and receive either a Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle (le CAP) or the slightly more prestigious Brevet d’Etudes Professionnelles (le BEP). These certifications segue into a multitude of technical and career-oriented programs ranging from one to two years. France contains more than 3,000 schools that offer programs of this kind, both public and private.

Those who opt into the Brevet de Technicien earn access to an array of higher-level technical degrees. These typically two-year programs are offered at Universities, lycées, and Instituts Universitaires de Technologie (IUT), the latter of which are connected to universities and prepare students for the workforce. It is worth noting that obtaining a degree of this level does not grant eligibility for “second cycle” degree programs, such as a Master diploma.

France’s formalized university structure abides by a consolidated European Union approach called the LMD System (Licence-Master-Doctorat). The degrees are merited via ECTS credits (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System), which are accepted by most European educational institutions. The “Licence” degree is earned in three years, the “Master” in two additional years, and the “Doctorat” in an additional three. These degrees can chiefly be obtained at public universities and Grandes Ecoles.

There are 83 public sector universities in France, and anyone is guaranteed admission to one of these schools upon passing le bac. Moreover, France is one of six countries in which public higher education is virtually free—“Licence” programs cost a mere €184 (roughly $200) per academic year, with a “Master” only demanding €256 (roughly $275). The caveat is the sheer turnover of these programs. Nearly half of all students fail to complete their first year of studies at these institutions, with about 90,000 leaving without a qualification. Efforts are being made to curb the failure rate among students, but the volume of students makes the endeavor a difficult one.

There are also private institutions that offer LMD system degrees, with tuition ranging from €3,000 to €10,000 annually (approximately $3,200 to $10,700). The most prestigious of these institutions are called Grandes Ecoles, which elicit a five-year program ultimately resulting in a Master’s-level qualification. These French equivalents to the Ivy League only mandate three years of study within the institutions themselves, in addition to two preceding years of classes préparatoires (truncated as prépas). Following these two years of study, students then take a concours for admission to a Grande Ecole. Not all Grandes Ecoles are private; a notable example is La Sorbonne, a renowned university in Paris. The most prominent programs offered within these schools are Management and Engineering.

The French higher education system displays close parallels with the United States system and has also exhibited efforts to consolidate curricula among European nations. While there are certainly hitches in fielding the influx of people seeking educational advancement, the open opportunity to obtain a degree speaks well to the fraternal ideals of the country.

Higher Education in Italy

Home to some the oldest universities in the world, Italy has a rich history in higher education. In particular, the University of Bologna, founded in 1088, is considered by many to be the oldest university in the world. Other longstanding institutions include the University of Padua, founded in 1222, and the University of Naples, founded in 1224.

The tradition of higher education in Italy dates to the time in medieval Europe when groups of students founded “universitates studiorum” in large cities such as Bologna and Paris, which quickly developed into cultural centers. Eventually, more “universitates studiorum” were established by popes, emperors, and kings. Then in 1861, after Italy’s unification, the Italian system became strongly centralized as the universities became state institutions under the control of public authority.

The foundational principles of the Italian higher education system are set down in the Italian Constitution, adopted in 1947. Article 33 states that “…art and science are free and the teaching thereof shall be free.” And although Article 33 also states that all institutions “have the right to establish their own regulations autonomously, within the limits set by national legislation,” Article 34 then makes clear that “all those who can prove the necessary competency and commitment have a right to pursue the highest levels of education, regardless of their financial means.”

In 1999, a significant reform process began to change the Italian system of higher education. This reform process marked the first steps towards the decentralization of the university sector and set up the Ministry for Universities and Research (Ministero dell’Universita e della Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica – MURST), an independent body that asserted autonomy in university management, financial and budgetary issues, teaching, and research. This was not only to harmonize European degree structures (under the Bologna Process), but also to promote the goals for the European Higher Education Area in 2010 (promoting international student mobility, free circulation of labor, and international academic recognition).

To meet these goals, Italy’s higher education system has been divided in two distinct sectors: the university and non-university sector, with the latter mainly comprised of arts, music and language training, and secondary education and training (Istruzione e Formazione tecnica superiore).

These reforms have contributed to increasing higher education rates since 2000, as seen in the statistics below:

  • The percentage of young people (under 18) in Italy who can expect to enter university-level higher education program over their lifetime increased from 39% in 2000 to 49% in 2010
  • The percentage of young people expected to graduate from such programs over their lifetime increased even faster, from 19% in 2000 to 32% in 2010
    • Of which 27% are expected to graduate before the age of 30
  • The percentage of Italians with university-level education has increased from generation to generation, from 10% among 55-64 year-olds to 20% among 25-34 year-olds

Students typically enter university at age 19 in Italy, one year later than in most EU countries. Following the Bologna Process, universities are organized in a first cycle of 3 years (“Laurea di Primo Livello”), followed by a secondary cycle of two years (“Laurea Specialistica” and similar qualifications). Third cycle doctoral programs (“Dottorato di Ricerca” and similar qualifications) usually require an additional three years of intensive study and independent research.

All universities must follow the same rules regarding a range of decisions (degree conferred, curriculum, etc.) in order to be accredited to deliver a university degree.

higher education

A Brief Look at Higher Education in China

China boasts the world’s largest higher education system, with more than three thousand higher education institutions and an average yearly enrollment of more than twenty-five million students. Within its system, there are a variety of types of higher education institutions, including both general and discipline-specific universities, vocational institutes, and adult higher education institutes. Successful passage of the post-secondary National Entrance Examination is typically required for university admission, a process that can be highly competitive.

The country’s system of universities is divided between the central and municipal governments, as well as autonomous regions and municipalities. The typical school year runs on a semester schedule, with the first semester starting in early September and the second starting in mid-February. China’s higher education system is noted for its rigorous curriculum, and students commonly have five-day class schedules.

China’s higher education system is heavily influenced by Western education systems, and features traditional bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Students completing a bachelor’s program are expected to finish a graduation thesis, report good academic grades, and finish the associated teaching plan. Those completing a master’s program must pass all exams in subject studies and draft a graduation defense. Graduate students also have the option to attend research institutions. Students completing a doctoral program generally must complete the same requirements within a masters’ program in addition to completing the graduation oral examinations.

The modern implementation of China’s higher education system dates back to the 1980s, though its roots can be traced as far back as the Han Dynasty. According to the British Council, at the time of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there were only 205 higher education institutions in the entire country. Of those, 123 were state and provincial universities, with the rest being private or religiously affiliated. Total enrollment was approximately 120,000 students, or one in every ten thousand Chinese citizens. However, as a result of the Soviet Union’s influence on Chinese culture in the 1950s, higher education expanded to include comprehensive universities and specialized institutes for industrial training and development. Structural reforms, including the reintroduction of the National Higher Education Entrance Exam, then followed in 1977 under the rule of Deng Xiaoping.

Seeking to invest in the people’s education, China implemented the 21st Century Education Revitalization Plan in 1999. This led to an annual enrollment increase of 2%, leading to an overall gross enrollment of 30% in 2012. Across the system as a whole, more than 30 million people have enrolled in recent years to pursue a variety of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Rankings also suggest that China is now a popular destination for international students in Asia.

Education in Russia: An Overview

History of Education

Mass education in Russia started under the reign of Peter the Great in the early 1700s. Peter had studied many subjects abroad in countries such as Germany, Holland, Prussia, and England. These experiences motivated him to create a modern education system in Russia. Before this system was put in place only the wealthy could afford to send their children to school. Under Peter’s rule, more students could receive a secondary education. This education was received in “gymnasia” from the ages of 10 to 12. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, schools started to become open to the general public.

Higher education began in the mid-18th century and was modelled after Germany’s system at the time. After secondary school, students could attend universities, which were started in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Students received a “Diploma of Higher Education” after completion of five years of study.

Education System

Russia has a compulsory education system in place for children aged six to fifteen. Students go to primary schools from the ages of six to ten. Then, they go to secondary school from the ages of ten to fifteen. Students who want to go on to complete their higher education must attend secondary school for an additional two years. This education system has allowed Russia to boast a literacy rate of 99.7%.

Compulsory subjects include Russian language, Russian and world history, mathematics, and the sciences. A grading system of two to five is used. After students finish compulsory education, they must pass a unified state examination.  Then, depending on their examination results, students can choose to go to a university, vocational school, or a non-university level institute of higher education.

Students who choose to go to university can choose to pursue a four-year “Bakalavra” degree or a five- to six-year “Spetsialista” degree.  A “Bakalavra” degree can then be followed by a two-year “Magistra” degree, which can only be obtained after the successful defense of a thesis. The system has undergone reforms in recent years to be more similar to the systems in place in the United Kingdom and the United States.

There are two types of advanced science degrees. After completing either their “Spetsialista” or “Magistra” degrees, students can pursue a three-year “Kandidata Nauk” degree, which can be obtained after a successful thesis defense and passage of qualifying examinations. Afterward, students can continue on to earn their “Doktora Nauk” degree, which generally requires an extra five to fifteen years of research and study, but there is no set time limit.

Students seeking to follow a career in medical fields have several options. Medical students must typically undergo six years of training, while dentistry and pharmacy students must undergo five years, and nurses must undergo at least four. Students must typically undergo professional training at hospitals, clinics, and medical research institutes. Medical students can pursue a one-year “Internatura” program or a two- to four-year “Ordinatura” program in order to further specialize in a particular field for their chosen profession.

Switzerland: Higher Education and Professional Training

Education in Switzerland is seen as a government responsibility. Of Switzerland’s total public expenditures, 16% is spent on education, which is higher than the European Union average of 12%. Education typically starts at kindergarten, but the compulsory age depends on the canton. All children have to attend primary education and lower secondary education. Students are then given the choice of three different paths for their upper secondary level education. Those who are more academically oriented typically attend a gymnasium where they can earn a baccalaureate after passing the “Matura” exam. Students can also earn a more specialized baccalaureate, and while it is considered a more practical and professional form of study, it also allows for scholarly pursuit. The final track students can enter is vocational education and training. In this track, students attend classes while also working at an apprenticeship. After finishing their schooling, graduates are able to immediately enter the workplace. However, these students are still able to earn a federal vocational baccalaureate if they wish. By receiving a baccalaureate, a student is eligible to enter into tertiary-level education. Around 86% of Swiss people between the ages 25 and 64 have completed their upper secondary education.

While any student with a baccalaureate is able to apply to university, most Swiss people opt for professional colleges or professional education and training diplomas. Only about 25% of young Swiss people enter into tertiary-level “type A” universities. Entering a university also does not guarantee completing a Bachelor’s degree. The first-year exam is so rigorous that half of entrants typically have to leave after the first year.

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)

The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) is heavily involved in the Swiss education system. This institution funds Switzerland’s two federal institutes of technology and is involved in co-funding and regulating the Swiss universities of applied sciences, professional education and training (PETs), and upper secondary vocational education and training. In addition, SERI aids cantonal universities when needed. Through SERI, the Swiss government allocates funding for competitive research grants and scholarships. The cantons also coordinate for joint educational programs.

SERI maintains a strategic overview of the Swiss educational system. Its goal is to ensure the high quality of Swiss education so that the country can be proactive and collaborate in the global arena in terms of education and research. Keeping this objective in mind, SERI prioritizes research at higher education institutions. As SERI’s main focus is research and innovation, the organization is dedicated to the diverse forms of higher education in Switzerland. SERI maintains the caliber of vocational programs as well by making sure that vocational tracks remain in line with changes in the labor market.

As an organization, SERI regularly coordinates and consults with cantons, higher education institutions, educational organizations, and stakeholders involved in their mission of research and innovation.

Professional Education and Training (PETs)

There are two different types of higher education programs in Switzerland that can be subdivided into four tracks. There is the tertiary “type B,” which consists of federal and advanced federal professional education, as well as training and professional colleges, and there is the tertiary “type A,” which consists of universities of applied sciences and universities, as well as federal institutes of technology.

Currently, the Swiss government recognizes 240 federal diploma exams and 170 advanced federal PET diploma exams. These programs are limiting in terms of carrier options. Within each industry only one federal and one advanced federal PET diploma examination is approved by the government for each specific field. The advanced federal PET diploma, for example, is geared toward the commercial and industrial sector. It is actually professional organizations that conduct the federally regulated examination for the diploma. These exams occur once or twice a year. For admission into one of these programs, students are required to complete vocational education and training programs and work experience.

These courses are not state-regulated, and can be studied for alone. Upon passage of the exams, a candidate receives a diploma and the phrase “with federal PET diploma” is added to their respective job title. By passing an Advanced Federal diploma, either a prefix “dipl.” or a suffix “with advanced federal diploma” or a “Meister” can be added to a job title. It has been recommended in university conferences that graduates of tertiary “type B” programs be allowed to attend university at the Bachelor’s-level at universities of applied sciences.

Professional Colleges

The next track for a tertiary “type B” education is attending a professional college. These institutions offer federally recognized programs in the following sectors: engineering, hospitality services, economics, agriculture and forestry, healthcare, social care, art and design, and traffic and transport. To be admitted to these colleges, one needs to have completed the federal vocational education and upper secondary level training with a diploma, accrue professional experience, and pass an aptitude assessment. Individual cantons are in charge of the education and training programs at the colleges located in their municipalities, and if they meet the proper requirements, the programs can be recognized by the SERI.

The curriculum for professional colleges requires enough allocated time, according to the profession desired, towards occupational profiles, competencies, and field training. Furthermore, it can be taught bilingually or even in English.

Professional college lasts around two years, including both educational and training portions of the curriculum. If taken part-time, the schooling will take an additional year. To complete the degree, there must be a practical assignment done, as well as an oral and written exam. The graduate is able to enroll in a university of applied sciences for a Bachelor’s degree.

Universities of Applies Sciences (UAS)

Switzerland currently has seven public universities of applied sciences and two private ones. The public ones are run by individual cantons. Since the Federal Universities of Applied Sciences Act, these universities have made it a priority to collaborate with partners abroad in teaching and research. They aim to raise the Swiss international profile, help the universities and students get a foothold in the globalized professional landscape, and offer more exchange programs for student from abroad.

Bachelor’s degrees last three to four years full time. In total students typically earn 180 credits in the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).

Universities and Federal Institutes of Technology:

Bachelor’s degrees require three full years of study at these institutions. Swiss universities are known for their research, as Switzerland spends 2.2% of its GDP on research and development. As a result, the research conducted at Swiss universities has made an impact at the global scale.

The Australian Educational System

The Australian education system is similar to the systems of many developed countries. Children attend primary and secondary school, and many continue to higher education. Australian schools are primarily publically owned and funded, while a small percentage are considered private schools. Degrees from Australian schools are recognized worldwide and Australia is known for having a robust higher education system.

From about the age of five to the age of fifteen, school is compulsory for Australians. Each state or territory is responsible for setting the standards, policies, and rules for its primary and secondary schools. The Australian government provides funding and infrastructure to schools around the country, in hopes that the quality of public schools will continue to improve. The Australian government is currently looking for a solution to the lack of sufficient improvement in student outcomes. Although funding has increased over the past decade, there has not been a change in the quality of public schools. Like other countries seeking alternatives to current schooling systems, Australia is looking for ways to better prepare students for life.

Following primary and secondary education, Australian students can advance to tertiary education, which includes university and vocational education and training. English is the official language of Australia and its education system, which makes it a popular destination for international students. Australia is also home to many of the top universities in the world.

Introduced in 1995, the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) makes it easier to compare a tertiary education degree to those from international schools and the more than one thousand institutions of higher education in Australia. After graduating from any school in Australia, a student earns a degree that is ranked on a scale from one to ten. For example, a Bachelor’s degree is a Level 7 qualification, but a Bachelor’s (Honours) degree is a Level 8, the same level as a Graduate Certificate or Diploma. In order for a school to issue one of these standardized qualifications to graduating students, the school must meet government standards. In a sense, institutions approved by the government can be considered accredited institutions.

Students who choose to continue with higher education can receive many different degrees from Australian institutions. Options include an Advanced Diploma, an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree, a Bachelor’s (Honours) degree, a Graduate Certificate, a Graduate Diploma, a Master’s degree, and a Doctoral degree. After secondary school, students may also choose to obtain a certificate in their chosen field of work. According to AQF specifications for earning certificates, students must learn specialized skills in a particular vocation. Certificate levels range from Level 1 to Level 4, corresponding with AQF Levels 1 through Level 4, with each subsequent certificate requiring more knowledge. A Diploma equates to an AQF Level 5, as opposed to an Advanced Diploma, which equates to an AQF level 6, the same level as an Associate’s degree.

Before Europeans settled in Australia, the only known inhabitants of the country were aboriginals. When explorers discovered the land, aboriginal people were not included in the British Empire’s plan for the soon-to-be colony. In modern times, the government has made efforts to repair the relationship between the indigenous people of this region and those of European descent. Indigenous Education Units (IEU) provide a support network for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on university campuses. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet also provides support for these students through scholarships and assistance.

Most tertiary education institutions in Australia are public institutions, which means that they mostly rely on government funding and grants. Proposed changes to the higher education system in Australia have been under debate recently. While some government officials feel that higher education is over-funded, others believe that cutting the budget will lower the quality of public universities. The Education Investment Fund (EIF) pays for public university infrastructure. Recently, it was decided that the money allocated for this fund would be redirected to efforts for disabled citizens. Existing programs that receive funding from EIF will continue to do so, but new projects will not be accepted. Institutions of higher education are still funded by the Higher Education Support Act (HESA), which has been providing a majority of funding since 2003.

Education in Brazil: An Overview

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and the largest country in South America. Its population is over 200 million people. Unlike many other countries with a colonial past, Brazil went through various types of government since its establishment in the early 1500s. Having gained independence in 1822, Brazil’s government system shifted from colonial to monarchical, to oligarchic, then populist, to military dictatorship, and finally, to the democratic republic formed in 1985. By 1988, the basis for modern Brazilian legislation was created with the newest constitution.

K-12 Education

While the current system of education in the country is based on the last constitution, some of the tenets by which the Brazilian system operates date back to pre-republican times. In Brazil, schooling is divided into progressive stages based on age grouping.  School is compulsory at the elementary level, from ages 6-14. High school usually spans ages 15-17. This stage of schooling has as recently as 2016 been considered for compulsory mandate as well. Other schooling options are technical schools, which provide technical degrees that can be obtained while attending high school. Technical degrees are usually provided by public institutions but not accredited by the Ministry of Education. Higher education is not mandatory and is aimed at adults 18 and over.

The decree on mandatory schooling and the state’s responsibility in education dates back to the 59th amendment to the Brazilian constitution made in 1971.  The intent was to universalize basic education across the country. Clauses in the amendment ensure that the state provides coverage for costs associated with didactic materials, transportation, nourishment, and health assistance.  However, this law is seldom enforced as the country’s 18% illiteracy rate demonstrates. Over 80% of the Brazilian population lives in urban areas, and despite its large manufacturing and service sectors, agriculture and mining are still leading industries in the nation. Rural as well as urban dwellers in low resource settings, especially in areas outside of the Southeast and ocean bordering regions, have a higher incidence of lack of access to education, as poor transportation and the need for labor hinder basic educational pursuits.

Path to Higher Ed: Private vs. Public

The Brazilian educational system is supervised by government offices at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Childhood education falls under the responsibility of the municipalities, while states and the federal district are tasked with the regulation and provision of primary and secondary education. This includes the federal government’s responsibility in providing education in institutions such as universities and regulating private ones.

Educational bodies in Brazil include the Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação), the Coordination for the Improvement for Higher Education Personnel (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior [CONAES]), and the National Committee for the Evaluation of Higher Education (Comissão Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Superior [CAPES].

Admission to universities is contingent upon completion of secondary school as well as entrance exam scores. Each university has conventionally held its own exam called a vestibular, which tests students on a variety of subjects. Brazilian students often resort to extra courses outside of normal schooling hours or after completing secondary school in order to prepare for this exam.

Another exam is the ENEM, the Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio. This exam was created as a means of assessing the quality of Brazilian education, and hundreds of universities have replaced their vestibulares for ENEMs for admissions. As of 2009, the Ministry of Education named the ENEM as the official university entrance exam. Because entrance exams are so challenging and the best universities in Brazil are public federal universities with limited seats, admissions are competitive.

Brazil has private and public universities. Unlike the U.S educational system, public or federal schools at the university level are considered more prestigious and require a competitive state examination for entry. Deficiencies and inequalities in the Brazilian educational system become eminent when looking at the path taken towards university entry.

Prior to a widespread affirmative action decision passed in 2012, only students that had the means to afford private schooling in the primary and secondary stages earned the scores required for entry at these federal institutions. Public schools at these levels are traditionally attended by lower-income students that may not be able to afford the extra preparation courses that some middle class and higher-income students can for university entry. The affirmative action law was passed in response to this issue, and required that half of the incoming class of each federal university be matriculated from public schools. The federal universities were given four years to implement the change in their admission processes.

Higher Education

At the university level, the “graduação” or “Bacharel,” the first level undergraduate program, is typically earned in 3 to 6 years of study. All programs require a research paper or project.  The “mestrado,” or graduate-level program, is usually completed from 18 months to 2 years and always requires a thesis.  A “doutorado,” or Doctorate degree, is usually earned in 4 years. Except for a few programs that allow for direct admission from an undergraduate program, most “doutorado” programs require students to have completed the “mestrado” prior to admission.

Higher Education in India

With over 700 universities and 35,000 affiliated colleges, India has the third largest highest education system in the world, after the United States and China. According to the 2011- 2012 Indian census, approximately 21 million students were enrolled in Indian colleges and universities.

The current Indian higher education system is rooted in the legacy of British rule. Between 1858 and 1947, the British government established 25 central universities across India. These institutions, only accessible to Indians of upper and middle castes, taught a classical western curriculum of arts and sciences in English and established a new middle class of educated Indians. After independence, the creation of new universities and colleges in India greatly expanded. Contemporary Indian universities and colleges follow a similar arts and science curriculum to the one set by the British, with most institutions still teaching primarily in English.

There are four main types of universities in India. The first, central universities, are public universities established by the federal Indian government and ratified by Parliament. The second type is state universities, which are public universities established by regional governments in each of the thirty-six Indian states and territories. The third, private universities, are (as the name would suggest) privately run, having been established with funding from the private sector and accredited by the Indian University Grants Commission, a subsidiary of the Indian National Government. Finally, there are deemed universities. Deemed universities are established either by local governments or private funding and are declared “high performing” by the Indian National Government. All accredited universities in India are non-profit.

Despite the size of India’s higher education system, there is still limited access to university education for qualifying students. More than half of India’s 1.2 billion people are under age twenty-five, and university admissions are highly competitive. India’s Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for higher education – the ratio of students eligible for university level-education versus the amount of students enrolled – was 15% in 2012. India’s GER for higher education is markedly low when compared with the world average, 23.2%, and the average for developed countries, 54.6%. Looking forward, the Indian government has vowed to build more universities in order to develop wider access to higher education.

Higher Education in the Commonwealth System

The Commonwealth of Nations was established in 1949 and is comprised of fifty-three independent countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific, representing roughly one-third of the world’s population. As an outgrowth of the former British Empire, the Commonwealth today seeks to unite its diverse member states through a set of common goals and values, including democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Among other initiatives, Commonwealth countries have attempted to establish a set of uniform quality standards for both primary and higher education through a subgroup known as the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). The organization’s objectives include improving educational access through distance education and open learning programs.

Universities from thirty-seven member states are also members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), the world’s first and oldest international university network. With more than five hundred member institutions, the ACU promotes cooperation between universities in areas like research and scholarships, and seeks to establish best practices in the field of higher education.

Notably, many Commonwealth countries model their higher education systems after that of the United Kingdom. Higher education is divided by undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Courses are commonly held in universities or constituent colleges, and are also taught in specialist art institutions, business schools, and agricultural colleges.

Students in some Commonwealth countries, including Singapore and Tanzania, complete either a thirteenth year of high school or a set of comprehensive post-secondary examinations comparable to the “A Level” examinations in the United Kingdom. Bachelor’s degrees generally require three years for completion, though some programs may require four years or more. Entry to postgraduate programs usually requires an undergraduate qualification. Master’s programs are typically completed in 1 to 3 years, and doctoral programs generally require at least 3 years of full-time study. Lower-level undergraduate qualifications, including a variety of National Diplomas, Higher National Diplomas, certificates, and other professional qualifications are also widely available in Commonwealth countries.

Membership in the Commonwealth is entirely voluntary, and it remains the responsibility of individual member states to set their own standards and structures for higher education. This means that while there are many similarities between the higher education systems of Commonwealth countries, there is also tremendous diversity, reflecting the specific educational needs and goals of each member state.

Higher Education Under the Bologna Process

In June 1999, education ministers from twenty-nine European countries met in Bologna, Italy, site of the oldest university in Europe, to develop a new framework for European higher education. In the resulting Bologna Declaration, the ministers claimed that “[a] Europe of Knowledge is now widely recognized as an irreplaceable factor for social and human growth.” By the end of the conference, they had established a structure that would standardize degree cycles and credit structures and promote student mobility across the continent. Known as the Bologna Process, this attempt to create a “Europe of Knowledge” has had an important impact on both larger educational structures and the lives of European youth during the past fifteen years.

The Bologna Process emerged from the larger movement towards European unity that swept the region during the 1990s, resulting most notably in the adoption of the euro as a common currency and the establishment of the Schengen area for freer cross-border movement. The education ministers of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom met at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1998 to discuss the implications of such changes for the European education system. “The European process has very recently moved some extremely important steps ahead,” they acknowledged in what became known as the Sorbonne Joint Declaration, but “relevant as they are, they should not make one forget that Europe is not only that of the Euro, of the banks and the economy.” In order for Europe to truly unify, its citizens would have to “strengthen and build upon the intellectual, cultural, social, and technical dimensions of our continent.”

These ministers called the larger meeting in Bologna the following year, where they were joined by officials from across Europe in establishing the Bologna Process. The goal for the first decade was to establish a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) within which higher education systems would be comparable, compatible, and coherent.

The major components of the EHEA framework are uniform qualification cycles and a standardized system of credits. The first qualification cycle is roughly analogous to a bachelor’s degree, the second cycle requires completion of the first and results in a master’s degree, and the third necessitates the completion of the second and terminates in a doctoral degree. The length of the first cycle is between three and four years, the length of the second cycle is between one and two years, and the length of the third cycle is generally between three and four years, depending on the subject of study and the location of the training. In addition to providing a list of skills that students should have upon completion of each cycle, the EHEA framework establishes credit levels necessary for each level: 180-240 for the first cycle and an additional 90-120 for the second, although credit levels at the doctoral level are still left to the discretion of individual countries. Quality assurance is emphasized throughout, with a monitoring working group tasked with overseeing implementation of the framework across the continent.

The impact of the Bologna Process and EHEA has been far reaching. For one, universities across Europe have been obliged to modify their degree programs in order to comply with the new standards. Beyond that, the Bologna Process has served as a model for higher education reform in other regions of the world, such as Africa and Latin America. It has also played a pivotal role in trends toward greater European mobility, particularly for high skilled workers. In addition to more expansive student exchange programs, the Bologna Process has made the transfer of degrees across countries in Europe both easier and more reliable. An employer in France can hire a young Slovakian worker with confidence, knowing that the education they received in their home country is equivalent to the one they would have received in Paris.