About the Author

Jeena Jayamon

Jeena Rachel Jayamon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. Her area of focus in in Structural Engineering and Materials with a focus on Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering. Jeena earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering in 2010 from National Institute of Technology Calicut in India. Later she joined Virginia Tech for her graduate studies in Structural Engineering, completed the requirements for M.S. in 2012 and moved to the Ph.D. program.More about Jeena ...

Universities and higher education institutes play a key role in the development of any civic society. A nation with accessible and accommodating education system prepares its young generation to be better citizens for tomorrow. Jeena

Universities and higher education institutes play a key role in the development of any civic society. A nation with accessible and accommodating education system prepares its young generation to be better citizens for tomorrow. Over the different countries around the globe, one can find similarities as well as contrasts in the form and format of higher education. As universities are becoming more and more globally accessible units, the gaps between the different education systems are reducing significantly.

In preparation of attending the Global Perspective Program, I had selected a research topic to study the framework of academic balance in different universities in Europe. The three levels in a university system – undergraduate; graduate and post-graduate levels of education pose an increasing complexity of structure. Undergraduate education is a transition for a student from high school to a more practical level of education. This is the most crucial conjunction point where one starts to take responsibility on their education and should drive it towards forming a successful career. The first difference I have noticed is the duration of the degree program – 4-year versus 3-year bachelor degree. I wasn’t familiar with the 3-year Bachelor degree options and thus it appeared interesting to explore around the new style.

To me, the most challenging aspect of a 3-year degree program might be the opportunities for research and minoring in a second degree. Pursuing a research experience may be heavily useful to learn and practice collaborative and individual work; identify an area of interest and will also serve as a precursor for a graduate degree. To get this going, universities need to dedicate some part of the work time of faculties towards guiding and mentoring students to participate in an undergraduate research opportunity. Also, getting an exposure to research will definitely help a student to become a good researcher in future. If not for a hardcore research activity, students should be guided through the big picture of academic research and its relevance to the state of art of development.

Opting for a minor degree in a related or unrelated area of one’s degree have great relevance in the growing interdisciplinary job requirements. This also give a second career option for a student and can also work complimentary with the primary degree. Viewing from the other side of things, a 3-year degree program can be an excellent choice for those wants to have an early career start. Also, it will work perfectly when it can be combined along with the additional 2-year master’s degree program.

As the word signifies, a master’s education is a process of mastering over a specific field of interest. I was very much impressed with the flexibility surrounded the path of obtaining a higher degree. By virtue of the Bologna process, transferability of the academic credits greatly eased the accessibility of higher degree. I was interested in finding the balance of courses, teaching and research in a master’s degree curriculum. A good number of students do prefer to do their masters degree while pursuing a job and were able to take both in parallel. In several universities, while doing research or writing a thesis is not technically required, students who wish to do a PhD is expected to have some prior research experience through a master’s research. Masters students are not engaged in completely teaching a course, but several of them do assist faculties in handling courses. Though not common, I was able to find some information about the possibility of handling double masters in some universities. Being involved in teaching assistantship duties financially help the students to support their education.

At the doctorate level of education, most part of the program is heavily focused on research. Based on the Bologna process, most of the doctorate degree is awarded with 3 years of research experience. There is no formal requirement of taking a fixed number of courses for credit and this helps the students to focus more on research. Teaching do have a significant role in doctoral program and I found that students do engage in teaching and tutoring during the course of their PhD. Accommodating teaching is slightly difficult for several programs when the students needs to spend more time on research particularly when they are awarded with a research funding for 3 years. Universities can try to implement more programs (similar to the graduate teaching certificate program at Virginia Tech) to give more exposure to students who aspire to work towards an academic career.

Outside classroom experience, I was able to find how students spend time on non-academic activities. Most of the universities have several societies and students do wish to participate in the local and national level activities of these societies. Interactions with the university visiting guides helped to know that students do appreciate the importance of these activities, but participation can be challenging at times for students who live away from campus. It might also be interesting to know what role do students play in helping with university administration and governance.

Another point where I would like to bring attention is the accommodation for family life for graduate students. The system is relaxed and flexible to accommodate those who needs to take care of family and children. Universities should acknowledge the importance of early parenting and should be willing to provide assistance and academic flexibility for those who needs to take care of children.

One aspect of higher education which I couldn’t explore much is the opportunities for study abroad programs. Do students go to universities outside Europe? How much do they spend on study abroad programs? How do they transfer the courses and skills they achieved through these study abroad programs back to their home college degree? What levels of preparations do they undertake for the attending the programs? What percent of bachelor, master and doctoral students do engage in study abroad activities?

After completing the university visits, I tried to find the contrasts and similarities between the academic balance between European and American education system. A longer duration of bachelor degree helped to get research experience at an undergraduate level and can give more millage to those who wish to continue for masters or doctoral studies. Students at both the education system seems to be interested in deriving benefits of team participation from outside classroom activities. Emphasis on teaching experience is visible at doctoral level of education.