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November 8, 2010
Volume 88, Number 45
p. 56

Branding Chemists

The Eurobachelor brand normalizes chemistry undergraduate degrees across Europe

Sarah Everts

Kristina WÄhÄlÄ
MASTER LABEL Eurobachelor graduation ceremony at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
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Switching schools in North America midway through an undergraduate program or to start graduate studies can be a bit of a headache, as administrators try to compare students’ course work at schools several time zones away. In Europe, swapping universities was a full-blown migraine. Besides the language barriers, different countries had different educational systems, types of degrees, and methods of student evaluation.

Over the past decade, educational reform to address these challenges has been taking place across the European Union. Inspired by this, a group of chemists has gone a step further and established a degree branding system called the Eurobachelor, Euromaster, and Eurodoctorate, which its members hope enforces standards for chemistry education that students, teachers, and employers around the world can easily understand.

To get an idea about trickiness of cross-border educational travel in Europe, consider the issue of evaluation: A good grade in Germany is a “1”, the lowest on a four-point grading scale, while just across the border in France, the opposite is true—a good grade is a “20” and a failing grade is a “0.”

Such educational incompatibilities inspired the EU to initiate the so-called Bologna Process in 1999. The reform agenda—implemented this year—attempts to morph postsecondary education across the EU toward the Anglo-Saxon model of three- to four-year bachelor’s, one- to two-year master’s, and three- to five-year doctorate degrees.

Yet the Bologna Process is “just a declaration,” says Pavel Drasar, a chemist at the Institute of Chemical Technology, in Prague. Although EU countries have signed on to—and in many cases implemented—the reforms, there is no policy tool in place to ensure that national education ministries are following the recommendations to a particular standard, Drasar says. So a group of chemistry educators under an umbrella organization called the European Chemistry & Chemical Engineering Education Network (EC2E2N), which is now chaired by Drasar, decided to develop an accreditation system to ensure standards could be enforced and regulated.

As a result, the Eurobachelor was born in 2003. The branding can only be given to students completing a university chemistry program accredited by EC2E2N. The chemistry programs at an increasing number of institutions—some 44 universities in 17 European countries—have been accredited, although this is only a small fraction of the total chemistry departments in the region. In 2008, the Eurobachelor label expanded to include Euromaster and Eurodoctorate degrees. Last year, the first students completed their Eurobachelor-branded degrees.

One goal of the label, Drasar says, is to make it easier for students to move between accredited institutions. “Officials at these universities sign a document that says they will treat students from another Eurobachelor, Euromaster, or Eurodoctorate programs as their own.”

Another hope is that the Eurodegree branding system will set a standard that employers can count on, says Leo Gros, a chemistry professor and vice president at the Hochschule Fresenius, University of Applied Sciences, in Idstein, Germany. Employers who are familiar with their own country’s degree names, such as the diplom in Germany, could use the Eurobachelor brand as a way to scrutinize graduating students.

To get accredited, a university’s chemistry program at the bachelor level must require that at least half the credits are in core chemistry topics. Other requirements include lab courses and a mix of other scientific courses, Drasar explains. The criteria put the recommendations from the Bologna process into practice, but they also include additional requirements: For example, students must achieve fluency in a second language besides their native tongue. Many programs also insist on an internship abroad.

“The international experience and extra language helps you stand out” to potential employers, says Verity J. Litch­field, who recently graduated from Nottingham Trent University, in the U.K., with a Eurobachelor degree and is now working as an organic chemist at a company in the U.K. Although Litchfield was not daunted by learning German to get her degree, the language requirement can be a deterrent to some U.K. students, who are typically not as multilingual as others across the EU, says Ray Wallace, a chemist at Nottingham Trent University. In other EU countries, many students are already fluent in both their native tongue and English before starting university, says Kristina Wähälä, a chemist at the University of Helsinki, in Finland.

Although its name suggests otherwise, the Eurobachelor branding has started to percolate out of Europe to other countries, such as Morocco and Kazakhstan. So far, only chemistry educators have bought into the idea of branding, despite informal discussions with physics and geology academics to extend the branding to those disciplines. The Eurobachelor label is trademarked, and therefore owned by EC2E2N, but “we are open to extending the label to other disciplines, as long as high standards are maintained,” Drasar says.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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