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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
'No threat' to masters degrees
There were fears about the future of science masters degrees
Masters degrees from UK universities are not threatened by efforts to harmonise qualifications across Europe, university bosses have claimed.

MPs heard fears that one-year masters and four-year integrated masters degrees would be devalued under a system based on time spent studying.

The UK is unusual in Europe in offering masters courses of this length.

But the framework for comparing degrees is to consider quality of learning as well as length, Universities UK said.

It is not an issue at the moment - there is not an imminent disaster threatening
Professor Drummond Bone

The Commons education select committee heard a number of concerns about the future of masters qualifications during its investigation into the process of harmonising university degrees across Europe, known as the Bologna Process.

It warned that the system by which qualifications are likely to be compared, the European Transfer Credit System (ETCS), effectively rendered masters degrees worthless - because one year's study did not give enough credits for a Europe-wide qualification.

But head of Universities UK Professor Drummond Bone said the future of such qualifications were safe as negotiations to widen the system's scope had been successful.

"It is not an issue at the moment - there is not an imminent disaster threatening."

He explained: "The Bologna Process is pushing towards outcome as a measure not towards hours.

"We all recognise the difficulties in the current ETCS programme but the push in Bologna is towards an outcome-driven approach."

Solutions sought

His claims were backed by the European Commission, which is "supporting" the Bologna Process.

Head of the commission in the UK, Reijo Kemppinen, said: "At the instigation of the British authorities, the European Commission has agreed to review the ECTS Users' Guide with the Member States.

"This is being done with a view to facilitate finding a solution, within the Bologna context, to the issues surrounding the 12 month masters degree.

"This process is in hand and is expected to be competed by the end of June."

But the Institute of Physics said it feared for the future of the UK's four-year science undergraduate degree - the integrated masters - which is the preferred route for training students to become professional scientists.

Second rate?

The Institute's Professor Peter Main accused the MPs' committee of failing to address the key issues, saying: "While the rest of Europe has been engaged in the substantial reorganisation of their degree structures, the UK has not.

"This is dangerous as some of our degree courses will be considered second rate by the rest of Europe."

Academics are also working on a system of qualifications transfer, called a Diploma Supplement, which would list the courses and modules students had completed and the grades and marks they were given.

By 2005 this system was already being used in a third of UK universities, with a further two thirds planning to adopt it, research for Universities UK suggested.

But this was unlikely to replace the UK's traditional system of degree classes, Prof Bone added.

There are also moves to adopt a common definition of what professionals and academics should be expected to know.

This "tuning project" would define what knowledge a historian or a nurse, for example, should acquire.

"Nobody is saying there should be a European syllabus for history, what they are saying is that it is quite interesting to discuss what a historian of Europe should know about."

Universities reject Europe fears
30 Apr 07 |  Education

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