A Report on the Three-Year Bologna Bachelor’s Degrees Presentation at the ENIC-NARIC Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark

 

IEM SPOTLIGHT NEWSLETTER, VOL. 14, Summer ISSUE - August 2017

By: Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.

Melanie Gottlieb, Deputy Director of American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), and Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, President of Association of International Credential Evaluators, Inc. (AICE) and President and CEO of Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc (ACEI), presented a session at the ENIC-NARIC meeting on June 26, 2017, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The topic of their presentation was the U.S. perspective on the three-year Bologna-compliant bachelor’s degrees. Joining Gottlieb and Saidi-Kuehnert was Allan Bruun Pedersen, Senior Adviser with the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Science, who presented the European perspective.

The U.S. Perspective

The U.S. representatives shared the results of surveys that were conducted by the Council for Graduate Schools (2005/2006) and the Institute of International Education (2008/2009) on the three-year Bologna-compliant degrees and the 2016 AACRAO-AICE survey (results from which are discussed in Beth Cotter’s article in this issue of IEM Spotlight). The key takeaways from the most recent survey was that the U.S. perspective is still evolving and that, based on institutional policies, it is split between two schools of thought: qualitative (benchmarking) versus quantitative (year-counting) measures.

The absence of a nationwide admissions policy for U.S. graduate studies and lack of cohesiveness among current policies, even between departments within universities, are the primary challenges to developing a standardized approach to recognizing the three-year Bologna-compliant bachelor’s degrees. In addition, there are various players that are involved other than the institutions of higher education (e.g., state licensing boards, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and employers within state and federal agencies), with their own sets of requirements and criteria. Some additional challenges for educators and credential evaluators in the United States are that: not all Bologna-compliant countries are moving in the same direction at the same pace; the three-year degree model is not always implemented in a coherent way, especially in fields such as law, teacher training, and medicine; and there is a lack of consistency in how European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) credits are used, in particular with master’s degree programs, where designating credits for student-centered learning remains unclear.

But all is not doom and gloom as survey results also show that an increasing number of U.S. institutions are becoming familiar with the three-year Bologna-compliant bachelor’s degrees and modifying their policies in response. The three different admissions models employed by U.S. institutions of higher education—open admission, threshold admission, and holistic admission—lend themselves to flexibility and variety when it comes to accepting three-year Bologna-compliant degrees. A cursory search of institutional websites (done independent of the survey) showed that some U.S. institutions accepted the three-year Bologna-compliant bachelor’s degree for graduate admission, some accepted the said degree but required completion of a one-year bridge program, and some accepted the degree holder but also placed emphasis on grade point average (GPA) and performance on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) in their final admission decision.

The European Perspective

The European perspective, as presented by Pedersen, confirmed the survey findings shared by Gottlieb and Saidi-Kuehnert in that there has been progress in accepting the three-year Bologna-compliant degrees in the United States, but it has been slow progress. According to Pedersen, close to 50 percent of U.S. institutions of higher education still do not accept three-year Bologna-compliant degrees for access to graduate studies. The European perspective leans more toward the qualitative benchmarking approach rather than the quantitative year-counting model. Furthermore, the European perspective uses the Lisbon Recognition Convention approach in that three-year degrees are recognized based on the following qualifications: level, profile, quality, learning outcomes, and workload. However, Europeans are also aware of the contradiction inherent to such an approach, especially in countries where there is still controversy over three-year degrees from other parts of the world, e.g., the three-year Indian bachelor’s degrees.

It is important to acknowledge the different educational philosophies found between the U.S. and European educational systems, in particular, the role of the general education component found in U.S. educational programs versus the narrower subject-specific European programs. There are still many European countries where a U.S. high school diploma is not considered sufficient for admission to the bachelor’s degree programs. From the European perspective, the U.S. high school education includes a broader range of subjects, and, often, a reduced emphasis and workload in subjects that prepare candidates for university admission in Europe. In contrast, European upper-secondary education requires fewer subjects and a larger workload in those subjects. Along the same line, the U.S. bachelor’s degree—with its general education component and de-emphasis on subject-specific courses in the student’s major/specialty—may not provide access to graduate degree programs.

It is essential for European institutions to understand and accept that U.S. institutions place a greater emphasis on quantitative recognition criteria, whereby completion of general education courses as well as subject-specific courses are a prerequisite for admission to U.S. master’s programs. The functional outcome is then whether the program meets the quantitative (number of years and credits) criteria required by a professional licensing board. This is a significant paradigm shift from the European educational systems’ reliance toward output-oriented learning versus outcome-oriented higher education. There needs to be a level of recognition and acceptance from both the United States and Europe that different pathways can lead to the same learning outcomes. The outcome of a degree is not just subject-specific knowledge, but also more generic outcomes such as the ability to communicate, analyze, and engage in teamwork. One aspect to be appreciated about the general education component of the U.S. bachelor’s degree program is that it also serves the purpose of generating broader competencies than just the subject-specific competencies obtained through the three-year European bachelor’s degree.

Moving Forward

In closing, the long tradition of transatlantic cooperation and student exchange within higher education needs to be embraced, and that includes recognizing the different admission systems (open versus threshold versus holistic) that require different responses. If an institution has adopted the open admission model, then both sides can accept the three-year Bologna-compliant degree (to U.S. institutions) and the U.S. four-year bachelor’s degree (to European institutions) for admission. If graduate admissions policies are more restrictive, candidates must be allowed to apply for admission (access) to bachelor’s degree programs and their eligibility must be determined in accordance with the same criteria as national qualifications and reviewed on a case-by-case basis and not automatically rejected.

The gaps and differences between the two educational systems may not be as large as perceived. By basing admission (access) on a broader range of criteria that takes into consideration both the quantitative and qualitative approaches and the longstanding history of cooperation and student exchange, mutual recognition and understanding of the U.S. bachelor’s degrees and the three-year Bologna-compliant bachelor’s degrees can be achieved.


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