European Higher Education

Last weekend, I was visiting with my family in Richmond. Our neighbors, a nice couple in their late 70s, are good friends of ours. Dr. Bergland is a professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) who has traveled the world. He told me that, based on his experiences abroad, it seemed like European universities were trying to adopt a more American approach to graduate education. For example, he mentioned that graduate students do not appear to get as much one-on-one time and attention from their advisors, which sometimes leads to discontent among graduate students who feel they still have a lot to learn. He also mentioned that many graduate students in Europe do not have committees – they are solely advised by one advisor. The benefit of having a committee, as opposed to one advisor, is that you have more direct access to a number of researchers with various areas of expertise that you can utilize for your Master’s degree and/or dissertation.

That all said, it seems like we (in America) would like to adapt more European qualities prevalent in higher education. For example, the Bologna Process, signed in 1999, helped make higher education much more affordable for anyone attending university in the 19 countries that signed. In Europe, higher education is heavily subsidized by local governments; thus, higher education costs range from free to the equivalent of a couple hundred dollars per semester. Additionally, graduate students are also considered employees and are payed as such (with benefits). In high contrast, higher education in the United States costs upwards of $25,000/year (at more “reasonably” priced universities), which puts people in thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt. It seems that people are told that to get a “good” job and make “good” money, one must obtain at least a bachelor’s degree. However, to go to college, we spend a huge amount of money and often end up in debt that takes decades to pay off. Higher education is becoming more and more of a “required luxury” so to speak in the United States. We need to go to make money, but we will be paying for it for the rest of our lives. Furthermore, in the United States, graduate students make little if any money, are provided limited (if any) benefits, and often have to pay their tuition (even if it is “research” hours).

While these are only two areas that strongly differ between higher education in the US and higher education in Europe, it appears that perhaps a compromised approach to higher education is mandated. The European models perhaps should add more emphasis on post-bachelorette instruction, while the American model needs to determine how to make higher education more affordable. Perhaps if more students and more universities create and participate in programs such as Virginia Tech’s Global Perspectives Program, a happy medium can be created using the strengths of both approaches and improving upon the weaknesses of both. I will be very interested to learn more about these differences, and I am sure countless others, while I am abroad this summer. I am especially interested in learning more about diversity-related issues in Europe, mental health awareness, and approaches to disrupting academic bullying.


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