Higher Education in Europe

Coming from Ghana, a country that gained independence from the British about 50 years ago, I grew up with the educated immediate older generation all having had their education in the UK. The plan for me had always been to seek higher education in the UK right after my first degree. When I was in high school though, the trend started changing. For some reason, a lot more people started talking about Harvard, Princeton and Yale when hitherto, the discussion had centered on Cambridge and Oxford. I don’t know the reason for the swift change but it did happen. And then, when I was in my first year of university, employees began complaining about the less than a year British master’s program and how British graduates were found to not know as much as the American master’s graduates did. It looked like a curse to attend a British graduate school since it seemed very hard to get a job with a certificate from UK.

Thus, I switched my gaze to other European schools. Germany was offering 2 years master’s programs but required all non-German nationals to study the German language for a year before the actual 2 year program began. I thought 3 years was too long a time to spend on a master’s degree so I dropped Germany as an option. All Ghanaians I knew complained about the icy cold temperatures in most of Europe so gradually, my attention shifted towards American higher education which is why I ended up here in Virginia Tech.

I particularly like Denmark’s 3+2+3 educational process because it shortens the first part of the university education (undergraduate level) and then concentrates its efforts in the 2 years master’s program. Also its PhD program, fixed at 3 years like other European universities, are more guided. I like the flexibility of the American PhD programs where no two programs are the same and also, students have the luxury of pursuing whatever courses they find appealing. However, the guided structure of Denmark and other European universities forces students to set specific targets for themselves and have a singular focus so they can finish on time. I think that most PhD programs in Europe are more alike than different because of the rigid structure. Rarely, do I hear a European student complain about spending too long a time in a PhD program. In America however, it is a norm and PhD students and even master’s students rarely are sure of their graduation dates.

I know about the Bologna process that is followed by about 48 European countries to ensure that   higher education quality and standards remain comparable across the continent.  The process reminds me of the West African Examination Council that sets qualifying examinations for high school graduates wanting to enroll in universities. I think it helps students from neighboring countries to not be restricted to the universities in only their countries but afford to look elsewhere. For instance, it is easier to find Nigerian or Liberian students in Ghana universities because of this system that makes results transferable and standards equal. Seeing the ease with which people can move across the different countries of Europe, it makes sense that such a process is in place to not restrict students to just their home countries. The GRE which is attributed to both the United States and Canada, also provides a sort of uniform standard for entry into a North American university but other than that, the higher education process is unique to every school or area in North America.

I am still not sure about the role of polytechnics in Europe and how a polytechnic certificate differs from a high school certificate or a bachelor’s degree. I am confused about the categorization of polytechnics in Europe and whether they function primarily as vocational schools or not. I will like to know more about that.