Not that many years ago, the education systems in different European countries varied from country to country and the term ‘Master’s’ was not as widespread as it is nowadays. The Bologna Accord gave the term a definitive meaning across the whole of Europe and helped to unify the different higher education systems.
The Bologna Accord
In short, the Bologna Accord was a significant step in unifying the different types of education across Europe’s many universities.
The purpose of the Bologna Accord (also called the Bologna Process) is to create uniformity in European higher education through the creation of the European Higher Education Area by making academic degree standards more comparable throughout Europe. Before the Accord, there was little uniformity in European higher education. Different countries’ universities awarded different degrees, and it was not always clear which degrees were equivalent to one other. These distinctions made it difficult for graduate programme admissions offices and potential employers across borders to assess an applicant’s level of education without extra research of the degree qualifications—not an easy task, given the wide variety of diplomas in the different European countries.
In June 1999, education ministers from 29 European countries signed the Bologna Declaration in the University in Bologna, agreeing to reform higher education to achieve the following targets:
- create a system of comparable and understandable degrees throughout the European Union;
- establish a clear and standard division between undergraduate and graduate studies;
- promote student mobility among different fields of study, institutions, and nations;
- develop a quality-assurance process and governing body to ensure standard qualifications and quality throughout participating countries;
- define a European focus for higher education.
Higher education cycles
The basic framework adopted consists of three cycles of higher education qualification which are defined in terms of qualifications and European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) credits. The Bologna Accord establishes a division between undergraduate and graduate study by introducing the ‘bachelor’ and ‘master’ framework to education in European countries that sign the agreement. It also defines standard degree requirements, a standardised grading scale, a common transcript and quality-assurance checks to ensure common practices and quality standards.
The first cycle awards a Bachelor’s degree requiring typically 180–240 ECTS credits and usually taking three years to complete. The Master’s degree is awarded in the second cycle of higher education. It needs typically 90–120 ECTS credits and two years to complete. The third cycle awards a Doctoral Degree and takes three years to complete. No ECTS credits range is given in this cycle. One academic year corresponds to 60 ECTS credits, equivalent to 1,500–1,800 hours of study.
Even so, the actual naming of the degrees may vary from country to country.
The new model comes closer to the North American and Japanese systems. It gives greater weight to practical training and to intensive research projects. The way credits are measured reflects how hard a student has worked. The new evaluation methods reflect not only a student's performance on exams, but also his or her lab experiments, presentations, hours spent on study, innovation capacities, and so on.
The aim of the Bologna Process is to organise higher education systems in European countries in such a way as to make it easy for students to move from one country to another within the European Higher Education Area for the purpose of further study or employment, and to increase the attractiveness of European higher education in order to encourage people from non-European countries to come to study and work in Europe.
So far, 47 countries have adopted the Bologna Accord. The Bologna Process list of higher education top priorities this decade includes: social dimension, equitable access and completion; lifelong learning; employability; student-centred learning and the teaching mission of higher education; research and innovation; international openness; and mobility.
Types of Masters
The general description of a master’s degree is an academic degree obtained in a higher postgraduate education, which usually takes two years to complete. It is a specialised graduate programme focused on gaining practical knowledge in a specific area. A bachelor’s degree is always required for admission to a master’s programme. Students build on the skills and knowledge they have already acquired in their bachelor’s programmes. Master’s courses cover the chosen field in depth, consolidating theoretical knowledge and dealing with practice-oriented applications.
The two most common titles of master's degrees are the Master of Arts and Master of Science.
Master of Arts (M.A., MA, A.M. or AM)
Those admitted to the degree are typically taught humanities studies like history, geography, philology, philosophy, theology, education, human resources, social and political sciences or fine arts. Master's degree programmes may be either research-based, coursework-based or a combination of the two. The degree can be conferred through passing examinations, research, or a combination of the two. A bachelor's degree is normally required for admission to a master's degree programme. The average time to complete a master's degree programme is two years after the completion of a bachelor's degree.
Master of Science (M.S., MS, MSc, M. Sc., M.Sci., M.Si., Sc.M.)
A Master of Science degree is based on scientific learning. A bachelor's degree in a related field is almost always a prerequisite. Master of Science degrees are earned in economics, accounting, finance, management, engineering, information science, medicine, space studies, aviation and environmental studies. Graduates who have earned a Master of Science degree often go on to pursue a doctoral degree.