Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Dezember 2005
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New Educational Challenges and the Universities

Marko Todorov (University of Rousse, Bulgaria)


If we cast a glance back into the past, we can remind ourselves with nostalgia that there were times when the "the old continent" was a leading factor in business, science and culture. Yet destructive wars and conflicts - especially in the last century - disintegrated the creative power of Europe. But the potential of Europe still exists, and the best and most hopeful component of this potential lies in the people, who today are working together collectively, even if with difficulty, to build the united house of Europe. Therefore everyone should recognize that the future of Europe is to a large degree dependent on unifying the human potential on the "old continent."

The Lisbon Strategy set the goal of developing the European Union (EU) as a dynamic economic region and gave priority to the business of knowledge. This decision established new tasks for the educational policy of European countries; they are contained in several resolutions of the European Ministers of Education. Investigations into the educational level of the Middle schools have shown that the knowledge of the pupils, especially in the area of the Natural Sciences, is unsatisfactory. Also at the university level it has been established that the interest in studying in the fields of Technology and Natural Sciences is not particularly great, resulting in a lack of highly qualified young people. The requirements for a career in science in Europe are not very favorable, and many young scholars seek other professional possibilities or emigrate, especially to the USA. The "brain drain" is a problem for the highly developed countries of Europe as well as for the newly admitted countries. In the younger member countries of the EU the motivation for learning is still somewhat higher, and a number of the well-qualified young people seek employment in the highly developed European countries. The advance in technology, however, demands more and more well educated people, who are prepared for practicing their profession, and this need requires that university education must quickly shift from a system of education for an elite to one of education for the masses. These facts necessitate a reform of the educational system in all EU countries, in order to form the so-called European sphere of education.

The resolution of the Education Minister in Bologna in 1999 is to be understood in this sense. It concerns university education and recommends that all states introduce three stages of education, resulting in three degrees: Bachelor, Master and Doctor. Only three years are recommended for the first step, the Bachelor’s degree, and that assumes that more practical knowledge and skills will be required of the graduates. In this way the time of education can be shortened and thus able to make well-qualified people available to the employment market more quickly. It is estimated, that about a third of the graduates with Bachelor degrees will continue their studies at a suitable time, with the goal of attaining the Master’s or Doctor’s degree, in order to be able to work in research institutions and industries of high technology. Thus an educational pyramid results with a very broad base, which allows wide access to university education; how high students will advance depends on their personal performance and at what level they decide to graduate. Today’s employment market requires not only that graduates have good knowledge of their field, but in addition that everyone must know at least one other language and be computer savvy.

This far-reaching reform of the University system does not always find the understanding of the academic community and the university administrations. The change is especially difficult for several European countries such as France and Germany with their centuries-old tradition of good education. In these countries the restructuring processes are proceeding more slowly than in many small countries or former socialist lands. Nevertheless everyone understands that the times have changed today, and what was good yesterday can act as an impediment today.

It must be noted that the universities are not alone in having problems with the new educational stages. Employers and the labor market in most countries are not prepared to make the distinction between the different university degrees, and this resistance has a negative effect on the interest of the students and the motivation of the universities to change.

The educational system is known for being conservative, and the necessary changes will require time. For that reason the establishment of the unified European educational sphere is not planned to go into effect until the year 2010. That is not by any means to say that there will be coordinated programs and unified syllabi throughout Europe. On the contrary, the multiplicity of educational institutions and educational traditions is fundamentally to be retained, but extensive collaboration and voting between the universities is expected. For this reason a number of European programs promotes and financially supports the mobility of students and teachers. Let me mention here the SOKRAT/ERASMUS Program and the special CEEPUS Program, which are extremely important for Central and Eastern Europe. To assist in supporting mobility for all countries of the EU, the European system for transferring course credits (ECTS) was introduced. By this means one can transfer acquired knowledge from one university to another. The students’ insufficient knowledge of foreign languages is a hindrance to mobility, and therefore many universities have begun recently to offer some programs in English. Apparently English has become a necessary prerequisite for international communication, and in the future it will hold a fixed place in all instructional planning.

The high demands on university education and the growing number of students and universities raise the question of the quality of education. In many countries today the number of accrediting agencies, which oversee courses of instruction and universities, is expanding. By this means an attempt is being made, on the one hand, to raise confidence in the awarded diplomas, but also at the same time to introduce certain standards into the educational process.

Education is not the only prerequisite for the progress of Europe. The maintenance of scientific potential and the financing of scientific projects are an essential part of the measures for building up the business of knowledge. Investigations show that the median age of scientists has grown disturbingly and that young scientists as a rule have no long-term prospect for scientific careers. The efforts of the EU to increase the financing of science programs (the sixth frame program is now running) are to be welcomed. Only by unifying the scholarly (scientific) potential and by the common financial contributions of all European countries can the necessary critical mass be attained to bring research projects up to an appropriate niveau.

In conclusion, I only want to point out that not only the colleges and the universities have to contribute to the costs of the business of knowledge. Also the professional schools at the Middle School level will play an especially important role, and they should be regarded as an important component of the total educational system.

Ladies and gentlemen, today one can no longer comprehend the totality of knowledge. One should not strive to turn out students on the order of Leonardo da Vinci, who was at the same time painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist. The most important thing today is that students master the art of learning and understand that they must keep on learning all of their life. The times in which we live demand nothing less.

© Marko Todorov (University of Rousse, Bulgaria)

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TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Marko Todorov (University of Rousse, Bulgaria): New Educational Challenges and the Universities. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005.

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