never been possible to talk about "the" European educational system
as if there were only one. That's not likely to change anytime
soon, but efforts are under way across Europe to make it easier
to compare degrees. In response to those efforts, an undergraduate
chemistry degree called the Eurobachelor is in the works.
The catalyst for these changes is the Bologna Declaration, signed
in 1999 by education ministers from 29 European countries. An additional
11 countries have since joined. The Bologna Declaration seeks to
create a "European Higher Education Area" by 2010. As decided at
the follow-up conference in Berlin last September, the system will
be based on three degree cycles--bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D.
One of the biggest steps being undertaken is the creation of
bachelor's degrees, something practically unheard of in continental
Europe. The new bachelor's degrees must be a minimum of three
years, which is how long most of them are likely to be. (A few
countries may opt for a four-year bachelor's degree.) The three-year
bachelor's degree represents a big change for most European universities,
where undergraduate degrees, which are known by a variety of names,
have generally been five-year programs.
To promote comparability among degrees in various institutions
and countries and to ease student mobility, the new bachelor's
degrees will be based on a credit system, another relatively recent
addition to European systems. The European
Credit Transfer System was established to allow students to
receive credit for work done at other institutions and to encourage
them to study abroad. In the new system, credits are defined so
that a year of full-time study equals 60 credits.
The credit system will form the "backbone" of the Bologna process,
says Terence N. Mitchell, a chemistry professor at the University
of Dortmund, in Germany. The credits are being apportioned
differently than in the U.S., where credits are generally based
on the number of contact hours in the classroom or laboratory
as a surrogate for the total amount of time a student spends on
courses. Instead, the European credits will be based on the student's
"Since it's a workload-based system, we want to find out and
react to the amount of work that students actually have to put
in to complete the program," Mitchell says. "We're trying to help
the students by looking at the amount of work that is being done."
In addition, Mitchell believes that the workload system will
give students more flexibility in designing electives. "You can
design your electives better if you can quantify the amount of
work that is done."
EACH UNIVERSITY will be required to provide
students with a "diploma supplement," which can be considered
something of a "super transcript." In addition to providing information
about the student and which courses he or she took, the diploma
supplement will include information about the national educational
system, making it easier to compare programs at schools in separate
The Eurobachelor program, chemistry's contribution to the Bologna
process, started as part of an effort called Tuning Educational
Structures in Europe, the so-called Tuning Project. The project
originally included seven subjects, including chemistry, and has
expanded to nine subjects. Launched in 2000, the Tuning Project
was the academic community's answer to the challenge laid down
by the education ministers.
"The declaration was written without asking the universities
whether they thought it was a good idea," Mitchell says. "A group
of people who had been involved in European activities had the
idea that we had to have a project from the university side to
react to the political challenges that the ministers had written
Mitchell became involved with the Tuning Project through the
European Chemistry Thematic
Network, an organization of university chemistry departments
and national chemistry societies. ECTN was asked to assemble a
group of people to work on the Tuning Project. "The result of
our deliberations in chemistry was to come up with the Eurobachelor,"
The Eurobachelor suggests a framework for the undergraduate
degree but refrains from providing curricular guidance. "Because
of the current disparity in the way Europe works, we very quickly
realized that it would be counterproductive to work in terms of
curricula, [so we decided to] work in terms of outcomes," Mitchell
says. "In other words, what should a bachelor in chemistry be
able to do? What skills, what competences, when he or she finishes
Starting from this list of outcomes, individual universities
then design their own curricula within the constraints set forth
by their national governments. Some governments are much more
restrictive than others in dictating what universities must do,
Mitchell says. The group decided that trying to dictate exactly
how much of each area of chemistry to cover would lead to so many
conflicts that it would be pointless.
Mitchell realizes that "outcomes" cannot be completely divorced
from the curriculum. The description of the Eurobachelor outlines
a number of aspects of chemistry that students should "become
conversant with." These subjects include a variety of topics in
organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. The document also
suggests that "modules" in analytical, inorganic, organic, physical,
and biological chemistry be mandatory, while subjects such as
computational chemistry, chemical technology, macromolecular chemistry,
biochemistry, and biophysics should be semi-optional (meaning
that students select modules from within a range of offerings).
"IN THE DOCUMENT [describing the Eurobachelor],
you will find a list of chemistry themes that we said should be
covered at the bachelor level. In that sense it's curriculum,
but not in any detailed sense," he says. "We do not suggest to
institutions how much time they spend on inorganic, organic, and
physical chemistry. We simply say that our recommendation is that
you should have a compulsory core to cover these basic subjects
in chemistry and include some mathematics, some physics, and biological
The compulsory core of the Eurobachelor is recommended as at
least 90 credits, or half of the three-year program. "Some countries
will go for more. Other countries will grumble because they've
traditionally had less compulsory stuff and more flexibility,"
Mitchell says. "You have a great deal of flexibility within the
core. You have the flexibility to decide how much time you want
to spend on inorganic, organic, physical, biological, math, and
physics. That's up to you."
Bengt Jergil, a retired biochemistry professor at the University
of Lund, in Sweden, where he was the director of undergraduate
studies, has been involved with the Eurobachelor discussions from
the beginning. He expects that implementing the Eurobachelor will
have minimal impact on undergraduate programs in Sweden. "The
Eurobachelor was designed to cover more or less the minimum common
denominator of chemistry in the chemistry programs of the different
countries," he says. Sweden already requires more than this minimal
The Eurobachelor concept so far is unique to chemistry, but
Mitchell expects that similar programs will be developed in physics,
mathematics, and geology.
The Bologna Declaration mandates that the first-cycle degree be
"relevant to the European labor market as an appropriate level
of qualification," so one potential concern is the employability
of students. "There are all sorts of political things in the background
which you're not supposed to forget," Mitchell says. "This whole
business is about decreasing the amount of time that students spend
at university and producing graduates at an earlier age who will
be competent but not as overcompetent as they would have been under
the old system."
OF TERENCE MITCHELL
European industry is used to five-year degrees
and may be reluctant to hire someone with only three years of
university, some people think. "Industry is having to rethink
its ideas and see whether they can see openings for students who
have finished at this level," Mitchell says. "Where they are thinking
about it properly, they are starting to realize that in this globalized
world, this sounds like a good idea because you will be getting
people who are educated to a high basic standard. They'll be younger
and more flexible, and therefore they'll be cheaper. I think in
five years' time the employability question will no longer arise."
In a speech delivered at a conference on "Chemistry Studies
in the European Higher Education Area," held in Dresden, Germany,
in June, Henning Hopf, president of the German
Chemical Society, said: "In Germany and in several other European
countries, there exists no traditional job market for students
who leave the university with a bachelor's degree only; the bachelor
education traditionally does not qualify for a job in these countries.
Clearly, both industry and the university have to make all efforts
to position these new degrees within the job market to allow our
graduates to find appropriate and adequate jobs."
To forestall fears about the quality of Eurobachelor programs,
ECTN is launching a pilot program testing a "Eurobachelor label,"
which will essentially be an accreditation program.
"Because of the way programs have always been run and because
we have had these many systems, our experience suggests that recognition,
at least at the beginning, of the new bachelor programs will be
a problem," Mitchell says. "We don't want these problems because
we all think that we will give our students a good bachelor education
and a sufficient bachelor education for them to get jobs or transfer
to master's programs."
The accreditation is not intended to rank courses according
to quality, although quality will certainly be considered when
evaluators make site visits. The main goal will be to determine
whether the program as a whole fits in the Eurobachelor framework.
ECTN has asked the European Commission to provide funding for
a year-and-a-half pilot project.
There are still some concerns to work out. For example, British
universities have long had a system based on three-year bachelor's
degrees. In recent years, a number of chemistry programs have
introduced so-called integrated master's degrees, four-year undergraduate
programs leading directly to a master's in chemistry. There is
uncertainty whether such degrees will be recognized in other European
countries as adequate preparation for entry into Ph.D. programs
or whether they will be seen simply as a type of bachelor's degree.
European chemists--or at least the organizations representing
them--are buying into the Eurobachelor idea. It was adopted by
of European Chemical Societies General Assembly in October
2003 and by ECTN at its April 2003 meeting.
Even with the Bologna Declaration and the Eurobachelor, Europe
will not have a single higher education system, but the various
systems will be more compatible while retaining their individuality.