Bologna Process’ puts admissions in pickle

Amy Hamblin

Graduates schools across the country — including Northwestern’s programs — might be forced to reject well-qualified applicants who graduated from three-year undergraduate programs in the European Union after some schools have tried to make matching reforms.

Forty European universities already have agreed to convert to a new undergraduate program, in hopes of creating a uniform education across the continent. Although the Bologna Process — as it is known — will not be fully implemented until 2010, graduate schools have begun to adjust their admissions policies in response to the possibility of losing out on European students.

Admissions officials for the Graduate School at NU said they have started to grapple with the issue, but the university will not take a definite stance until closer to 2010. University officials say NU likely will continue to accept three-year undergraduate degrees on a case-by-case basis.

“Given the change taking place in Europe for apparently good reasons, we have to look carefully at these changes and what they imply,” said Provost Lawrence Dumas. “My point is that there are always going to be special cases.”

He said some of NU’s undergraduate programs, such as the Integrated Science Program, were made for students to finish in three years.

Dumas said he will make the final decision for European three-year degrees after admissions and enrollment officials, along with administrators for NU’s graduate schools, submit information and recommendations to him. The timeline for this process is still unknown, Dumas said.

The Graduate School accepts most three-year degrees from other English-speaking countries, said Marla Way, admissions coordinator for the Graduate School. Great Britain, for example, has three-year programs, but students receive 13 years of primary and secondary education. From the Graduate School’s perspective, the differences in the American and British school systems are insignificant by the time a student applies to graduate school, Way said.

“We would go country by country, university by university,” she said of the new European degree. “Our rules are changing.”

International applicants last year comprised nearly half of the 8,000-plus applicant pool for the Graduate School but less than a third of them were admitted. NU typically admits a smaller proportion of foreign applicants than American ones because many of them are insufficiently prepared, Way said.

However, European students should continue to be included in the pool of accepted students.

“I don’t think we can afford to exclude these students (from Europe),” said Andrew Wachtel, dean of the Graduate School. “Someone needs to show me that these students aren’t qualified before they are excluded.”

Wachtel stressed that American and European programs cannot be compared without first considering their structural differences and separate objectives. European secondary schools and universities tend to be more specialized and lack the emphasis that Americans put on a broad liberal arts education.

Students who are rejected are left with two possibilities: to attend a non-American graduate school or spend a year studying at the post-bachelor level before reapplying. Wachtel said neither scenario solves the problem.

“The argument is that they haven’t done enough general education,” he said. “They wouldn’t get that from a master’s program.”

Wachtel said tuition-driven U.S. universities often prefer to keep the four-year program in place for their financial gain. He said he views the American uproar over the Bologna Process as “a stupid, bureaucratic piece of nonsense.”

Reach Amy Hamblin at [email protected]

Quick facts:

 The Bologna Process aims to shorten college education in the European Union to three-year programs by 2010.

 NU Graduate School admissions plans to evaluate international applicants on a university by university basis.