Architectural studies in the European Higher Education Area: Criteria for student degree mobility

Dimitra Konstantinidou

SUMMARY

The European Higher Education Area, implemented after the Bologna Process and with the assistance of the European Union, brought together 49 countries, both members and non-members of the EU, in an attempt to make the higher education system in these countries more compatible and facilitate the mobility of students and staff, while suggesting tools to facilitate it. The main points of the Bologna Declaration and the pillars of the European Higher Education Area are: comparable and understandable qualifications, the diploma supplement, two cycles of studies: 3 years for the bachelor and 2 years for the master degree, the Unified Workload Transfer System (ECTS), promoting the mobility of students and teachers, quality assurance with cooperation between institutions, and the promoting of the European dimension of higher education. Mobility, as various research reports showed, assists each participant in gaining experience and growing at a personal level, but most importantly, provides an easy tool for Higher Education Institutes to improve and take advantage of the experience that their staff and students gain while teaching or studying at other institutions. Mobility can be a way to support a common European identity and a strategic way to improve quality of higher education institutes, providing an opportunity for cooperation and creative comparison among them.   Architecture, due to its special character as both an art and a science discipline, and also one of the regulated professions with specific characteristics regarding the duration and subjects to be taught, is chosen as the education area most suited for mapping degree mobility and highlighting the characteristics that differentiate each school in terms of attraction to international students. On what criteria do architectural students select the school to continue their studies? There were more than 350 schools of architecture (in 2018) in the European Higher Education Area. Do international architecture students choose them for second cycle studies in the same degree? What makes a difference between them, causing some of them to become schools of excellence selected by the majority of students while others are barely visible in international competition? The research was completed in 2 questionnaires, collecting data during the academic year 2018-19. The first questionnaire was sent to 351 schools of architecture. We have collected 103 answers which is quite a representative random sample of almost all the EHEA countries. The second questionnaire was addressed to master students from the 50 schools that returned the first questionnaire and declared incoming students, with 101 answers from master students from more than 20 countries. Our sample is random and statistically adequate, coming from an adequate random sample of schools. Pointing out the criteria students use to select the higher education institution for their second-level studies, and thereby the parameters the school can work with to achieve a better international recognition, is the question of this research. Combining the results of both questionnaires, one submitted to architectural schools and the other one to students, regarding the reasons students select some schools over others, we see that both schools and students rank study programmes very high. As during the first cycle the basic knowledge of architecture is covered, at the master level deeper knowledge is gained and schools provide specialization to respond to today’s requirements, allowing students to build their own curriculum according to personal inclination. Well-trained teachers, with international experience and great teaching methods, add to the school’s value and attract students. From the viewpoint of location of the school, both students and schools mostly rank highly schools that are situated in capital cities, or cities with growing economies and cities with nationwide influence which is a parameter that schools cannot control. Regarding financial growth, schools in cities with stronger economies can co-operate with developed and well-known businesses, giving their students a chance to work. Students wish to experience living in a developed country and city, where they can work during or after their studies and can find opportunities to continue their studies to the third cycle. Students consider the cost of living and school fees, but do not define whether high or low is rated negatively or positively, having also in mind labour market needs. Students who participated in mobility at some stage of their studies, highly rate the teaching taking place in English, as a criterion to choose a specific master’s study program abroad. The school’s reputation, as is known by graduates, works in favour of the already known schools. Students are affected by word of mouth of former satisfied students and successful graduate architects add points to the known schools. Research, publications, and media reports can help to this effect. Schools failing to attract international students should keep in mind the criteria stated by the master students and make any necessary changes to cope with them. A well-built curriculum, supported by international staff with pedagogical education, international tuition languages – mainly English – and cooperation with businesses and industry, as well as other schools worldwide, can make them more visible across the country’s borders.

Keywords: architectural studies, criteria, degree mobility, master’s studies