Since its induction as part of the Bologna process in 1999, the Bachelor’s degree has repeatedly been subject of discussion: be it students, university representatives, associations and interest groups, the economy, countless experts – renowned as well as self-proclaimed ones – the swarm of participants is as big as it is diverse.
Most recently, Eric Schweitzer, President of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) piped up in a media effective manner: According to a DIHK survey, German companies are having a hard time with Bachelor graduates. Therefore, only 47 per cent are satisfied with them, with a downward trend. And only 15 per cent take the view that Bachelor graduates are well prepared for the working world.
Numerous companies as well as industry associations such as the German Association for Machinery and Plant Construction (VDMA) and the University Alliance for medium-sized Companies reacted quickly, rejecting the criticism. A current survey, created by the Founder’s Association for the German Science (Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education, reaches a different conclusion, too.
The Bachelor has entered the business world
My own experience as Head of the MBS Career Center and responsible person for company cooperations also paints a different picture. It is part of my daily business to bring together students and companies for internships and business projects. The feedback I get from companies that are either working with our Bachelor students in such projects or have employed Bachelor graduates is usually excellent. This applies to smaller startups as well as big players such as Telefónica, Sixt and Commerzbank.
Therefore, and I differ from Mr. Schweitzer, it is my opinion that not only students acknowledge the Bachelor, but so does the German industry.
Generally speaking, the Bachelor program is rather condensed in content and includes more than enough basic knowledge – comparable to the former Diploma degree. Master students do of course acquire even more knowledge, simply because they study longer. However, this should not lead to the conclusion that Bachelor graduates are not sufficiently prepared to enter the working world.
In addition, the Bachelor’s degree is the base of the Master program which most of our students choose after their Bachelor’s degree anyway. But starting a career is entirely possible with “just” a Bachelor, as well. This might even turn out advantageous as you can acquire a Master’s degree at a later date; also, many companies support their employees in doing so, for instance by providing specific in-house programs or financial assistance.
Meeting the requirements of the modern working world
The Bachelor’s degree was once introduced to prepare young talents for the eve r-changing changing economy and working world. The Bachelor program guarantees that by revised and modernized study regulations, its high practical relevance and an international orientation. In addition, Bachelor graduates are still comparably young (remember: it was the industry that criticized over-aged university graduates before the Bachelor’s degree was introduced!). They can easily make use of this additional time to gain practical job experience. One must not forget: Even Master graduates are no complete senior managers sitting in a lecture hall today and in a global player’s executive chair tomorrow.
It is this lack of practical experience the DIHK specifically criticizes Bachelor graduates for. This criticism cannot be justified though. Basically, you have to distinguish between classical universities and universities of applied sciences such as MBS. The latter ones have committed themselves to – as the name implies – applied sciences aiming to educate “complete” graduates (theoretical knowledge plus practical relevance plus personality development).
As part of their studies, MBS Bachelor students complete three internships of several months, one of which is abroad. The study program furthermore includes an Entrepreneurship Project with practical orientation, a Social Service Project in cooperation with companies (each covering two terms) and lecturers from the corporate world who willingly share precious real-life business knowledge and experience with the students. Also, factors such as the English Track (the entire study program is completed in English) and various business concentrations to choose from specifically prepare for a career in the globalized and diversified economic world of tomorrow.
All these factors are complemented by cooperations between MBS and various companies – small and big ones. This provides the students with excellent opportunities to get in touch with companies already during their studies or right afterwards – regularly opening doors directly into those companies. There are even students planning to complete a Master program, but rethink this choice after obtaining their Bachelor’s degree, advancing directly to the working world.
What do companies really want?
Why is it then that the DIHK (and thus the surveyed companies) got a completely different result?
Firstly, companies would always like to hire the perfect Jack-of-all-trades: young and excellently trained in theory, practice and character. Although this is a highly understandable desire and in no way reprehensible, it is still totally unrealistic. The aforementioned study of the German Federal Ministry of Education says: First and foremost, companies painting the picture of the unqualified Bachelor graduates are usually the ones that have never – or very rarely – employed Bachelor graduates themselves.
Let’s take a closer look at the companies’ opinion, as they, in the end, are the deciding factor in employing Bachelor graduates or not.
Most companies demand from university graduates practical experience during the studies, experience abroad and an extensive knowledge and skill base for the everyday working life. Specialized knowledge is not priority number one; it is nice to have, but can be acquired via professional practice, internal measures or a Master’s degree later on.
The chances to reach even the highest professional level are only partially reserved for Master graduates. Of course, a Master’s degree is always an aspect, though companies usually tend to attach a definitely higher value to internal performance in comparison to a higher university degree. Thanks to the aforementioned character development, our graduates are perfectly prepared in this respect, having all options to climb even the top steps of the career ladder. By the way: Most companies prefer a mix of Bachelor and Master graduates anyway.
Conclusion: Starting a career with a Bachelor’s degree
Last but not least, I would like to mention our Bachelor students’ and graduates’ feedback. I talk to them on a daily basis, so I can speak from experience: Neither our students nor our graduates feel they are not adequately prepared for the working world with their Bachelor’s degree.
Hence my conclusion is: As a University of Applied Sciences offering an intense Bachelor program we see it as our duty and our responsibility to prepare our students extensively for the working world. For us, this is not only wishful thinking, but reality – as our graduates confirm as much as the companies we have been collaborating with for a long time. In one point, however, my opinion matches Mr. Schweitzer’s and that of the DIHK: According to their survey, most companies are very satisfied with Master graduates – with an upward trend.