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January/February 2004
Volume 17, Issue 1
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Bologna Country Updates: Central Europe

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The Bologna Bachelor's Degree: An Overview

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The Bologna Bachelor’s Degree: An Overview

By Mariam Assefa, Executive Director, WES
and Robert Sedgwick, Editor, WENR

I. Introduction

Since the signing of the Bologna Declaration in 1999, Europe has gradually been moving toward a two-tiered system of higher education based on separate bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Countries that have the traditional long first degrees plan to phase them out by 2010, when the Bologna Process is scheduled for completion.

The reasons for this transition are fairly straightforward. First and foremost, the new degrees are more flexible, both in terms of their curricular content and exit points. The long first degrees, which were primarily designed to prepare students for scholarly work, can last up to seven years in some countries forcing many students to abandon their studies before graduation. It is anticipated that the new (shorter) bachelor-level degrees will make university education more relevant to the demands of the labor market and enhance comparability between the disparate systems of higher education that exist in Europe.

By adopting the new bachelor/master's degree structure, European countries also hope to boost the global competitiveness of their institutions of higher education. Many countries began introducing the new bachelor's programs in 2001/2002, and the first of the new degrees will be awarded in 2005.

This article will examine the new Bologna bachelor's degree using Austria and Italy as case studies. In 1999, both countries adopted legislation that restructured their higher education programs and implemented the Bologna bachelor/master's model. We will be focusing on the bachelor-level degree here and will deal with the Bologna master's degree in a forthcoming issue of WENR.

One of the main benefits of the new bachelor's degree is that it allows students to pursue graduate studies or employment anywhere within Europe depending on the type of program they completed. However, gaining recognition for the new degrees beyond Europe is also among the stated objectives of the Bologna Declaration. The first cohort of students enrolled in the new Bologna programs are scheduled to graduate next year, and the new degrees will begin turning up in North America for assessment. How will the Bologna bachelor's degree be viewed on this side of the Atlantic?

This article will take an in-depth look at the Bologna bachelor's degree. To better help us understand and assess this new degree, we will examine two sample programs taken from universities in Austria and Italy.

II. The Traditional (Long) First Degree

University first degrees in Europe differ significantly from country to country. The typical long degree can require anywhere between four-and-six years of study but students usually take longer to graduate. The curriculum for long first degrees is largely defined by individual faculties but specialization in a particular field of study is perhaps its most salient characteristic. In almost all instances students are required to write and defend a thesis in order to graduate.


The traditional Diplomstudium programs last four-to-five years, but in fact most students usually take longer to finish. The programs are divided into two cycles: The first cycle introduces the student to an area of specialization and concludes with an examination known as the Erste Diplomprüfung. The second cycle entails in-depth study and concludes with an examination, the Zweite Diplomprüfung, and a written thesis. Students who successfully complete this stage of higher education are awarded either a Magister or a Diplom degree, depending on the field of study.


The traditional Laurea requires four-to-six years of study depending on the discipline and is awarded upon the defense of a thesis. In the sciences, the curriculum is divided into two phases: a first two-year period which is considered a preliminary stage with basic theoretical disciplines and a second three-year stage which consists of courses in the specialization and its application. The laurea gives admission to doctoral studies programs via competitive exams, and is also the minimum legal requirement for entry into most professions. Holding the laurea gives the right to use the title dottore/dottoressa.

III. The Bologna Bachelor’s Degree

Under the new system currently being implemented, bachelor's and master's degrees can be awarded by universities and non-university institutions of higher education. The degrees will be defined by their content and outcome rather than by the type of institution that awarded them. Hence, the new degree structure under Bologna represents a departure from the traditional binary system of universities and polytechnics because the value of degrees is now based on the content and objectives of the curriculum rather than school type. Some degrees will be designed to allow immediate access to the labor market while others can be used for admission to graduate study at the master's and doctoral levels. In sum, the new degrees will require a significant restructuring of traditional systems of higher education.

A principal objective of the Bologna Process is to make university degrees transparent so that employers and institutions of higher education will be able to understand a student's credentials. To further facilitate transparency, the new degrees will be quantified in terms of ECTS credits and accompanied by the diploma supplement, which provides a detailed description of the studies completed by the individual.

In order to promote the desired comparability and transparency among European credentials, some common criteria have been formulated to define the new Bologna bachelor's degree:

1) A bachelor-level degree is earned at an institution of higher education and requires between three-and-four years of full-time study, or 180 to 240 ECTS credits.

2) A bachelor-level degree is earned at both traditional universities and at non-university institutions of higher education.

3) The details (profile) of each degree program and its learning outcomes should be noted in their title and included in the diploma supplement issued to the student.

4) Bachelor’s degrees that prepare students for further study should be freestanding and should not be regarded as part of a longer curriculum. This allows students to change disciplines and/or pursue graduate studies at another institution. Admission to second-cycle (graduate) degree programs requires successful completion of first-cycle (undergraduate) degrees.


Austria adopted the Bakkalaureat as a first university degree in September 1999. Programs leading to this qualification were introduced the following year, and the first cohort of new degree holders is scheduled to graduate in 2005. As of 2003/2004, as many as 180 individual bachelor programs have been adopted at Austrian universities.

The current plan is to offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in at least 50 percent of all academic fields by 2006. All newly introduced programs must adhere to the two-tiered structure called for by the Bologna Declaration. Universities can no longer offer the traditional long first degrees. Students who began their studies under the old system have the option of staying in that program or transferring to the new, bakkalaureat program. Admission requires the Reifeprufung or Matura, the Austrian school-leaving certificate awarded upon the completion of 12 years of elementary and secondary education.

Sample Program

The Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien) offers a bachelor’s program in information systems designed to train specialists in the field of IT and information systems. The program focuses on the IT knowledge necessary to qualify students for occupations that include designing, developing and introducing applications in the IT sector.

The program lasts six semesters and consists of 106 weekly hours (64 in core subjects, 32 in special subjects and 10 in electives.) Core subjects include 16 weekly hours in business administration, 22 weekly hours in information systems, 8 weekly hours in information technology and a variety of additional classes. The 32 hours of specialized subjects include an IT specialization area plus additional IT-oriented specialist subjects or an advanced IT subject. The program includes an internship that can be completed either in a business enterprise or as a research project within the university. Twenty-five percent of the program is taught in English.

Students are required to write two research papers in the course of the program. In the first paper, they must discuss a specific topic in an IT-related field (i.e., their IT specialization area or an advanced IT subject.) In order to graduate, students must successfully complete all required courses and submit a second research paper related to their internship. A student’s overall grade is based on the individual grades received in each course. Students graduate with the academic degree of Bakkalaurea/Bakkalaureus in social and economic sciences.


Note on credits: In this program offered at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, each weekly hour is equated with 1.75 ECTS credits. For more information on how the ECTS system is used in Europe please go HERE.

Core Subjects

1) Fundamentals of Economics (2 weekly hours)
2) Fundamentals of Mathematics (2 weekly hours)
3) Accounts and Financial Reporting I (2 weekly hours)
4) Marketing I (2 weekly hours)
5) Personal Management, Leadership and Organizational Behavior I (2 weekly hours)
6) Introduction to Business Information Systems (2 weekly hours)
7) Cost Accounting I (2 weekly hours)
8) Procurement, Logistics and Production I (2 weekly hours)
9) Corporate Finance I (2 weekly hours)
10) Computer Lab: Business Information Systems (2 weekly hours)
11) Political Economy and Economic History (2 weekly hours)
12) Economic Policy and Institutions (2 weekly hours)
13) European and Public Business Law I (2 weekly hours)
14) Private Business Law I (2 weekly hours)
15) Statistics (2 weekly hours)
16) Business Communication I (Foreign Language I) (2 weekly hours)
17) Business Communication II (Foreign Language II) (2 weekly hours)
18) Principles of Modeling (2 weekly hours)
19) Principles of Programming (2 weekly hours)
20) Computer Lab: Programming (2 weekly hours)
21) Fundamentals of Information Management (2 weekly hours)
22) IS Project Management and Teamwork (2 weekly hours)
23) IT Internship (8 weekly hours)
24) Advanced Practical Project I (2 weekly hours)
25) Advanced Practical Project II (2 weekly hours)
26) Database Systems (2 weekly hours)
27) Algorithms and Data Structures (2 weekly hours)
28) Analysis of Information Systems (2 weekly hours)
29) Networks and Network Security (2 weekly hours)

Total Weekly Hours: 64

IT Specialization Area Weekly Hours

Students select one from the following areas:

1) E-Business (16 weekly hours)
2) Electronic Commerce (16 weekly hours)
3) Information Management (16 weekly hours)
4) New Media (16 weekly hours)

Total Weekly Hours: 16

IT-Oriented Specialist Business Administration Option Weekly Hours

Students can choose one of the following IT-oriented specialist business administration options:

1) Corporate Finance (16 weekly hours)
2) Commerce and Marketing (16 weekly hours)
3) Organization and Supply Management (16 weekly hours)
4) Operations Research (16 weekly hours)
5) Tourism Analysis and Leisure Marketing (16 weekly hours)
6) Transport Economics and Logistics (16 weekly hours)

they can choose one from the following Advanced IT Subjects:

1) Data Analysis and Decision Support (16 weekly hours)
2) GEO Information Systems (16 weekly hours)
3) Information Management and Law (16 weekly hours)

Total Weekly Hours: 16

Elective Subjects

Electives can be chosen from classes offered by any
recognized Austrian or foreign university as long as an
examination is required for each class.

Total Weekly Hours: 10

IT Internship

The IT internship is to be completed within the framework of a class in which a specific topic is addressed and practical performance is evaluated. The IT internship can either be completed as an internship at an external company or as an internship in the university environment (e.g. in a research project). The results of the IT internship are to be summarized in the form of a bachelor's research paper.

University Education in Austria

Old System New System

Humanities & Social Sciences

Diploma Program: 8 semesters

Academic Degree: Magister___

Humanities & Social Sciences

Bachelor Program: 6 semesters

Academic Degree: Bachelor of___

Diploma Program: 10 semesters

Academic Degree: e.g. Diplom-Ingenieur

Engineering & Science

Diploma Program: 10 semesters

Academic Degree: Diplom-Ingenieur

Engineering & Science

Bachelor Program: 6 - 8 semesters

Academic Degree: Bachelor of ___

Master's Program: 2 semesters

Fine Arts & Music

Diploma Program: 12 semesters

Academic Degree: Magister___

Fine Arts & Music

Bachelor Program: 6 - 8 semesters

Academic Degree: Bachelor of ___

Magister Program: 4 semesters

Academic Degree: Magister___



In 1999, the Italian government began restructuring its degrees along the lines set out in the Bologna Declaration. The first university degree under the new system is the Laurea (same as the old degree name). It is three years in length and requires 180 ECTS.

The process of adopting the Bologna reforms has been taking place gradually with the first bachelor-level (laurea) programs launched in 2000/2001. Some of the traditional long first degrees programs, especially in the professional fields, are still being offered. For example, medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, pharmacy, architecture, etc. will continue to be offered via integrated long programs lasting 5-6 years leading to the laurea. They have not been restructured the way other programs have.

Students who were enrolled in the old laurea (long, first degree) or diploma universitaria programs in 2000/2001were given the choice of completing their studies under the old system or transferring to the new laurea programs in a corresponding field. However, the transfer is not automatic and has been left up to each faculty to decide on a case-by-case basis.

The new undergraduate programs (corsi di laurea) are designed to give students an adequate command of general scientific methods and contents as well as specific professional skills. Admission to laurea programs requires the Italian school-leaving certificate (Diploma di Superamento dell’Esame di Stato conclusivo dei corsi di Istruzione Secondaria Superiore) after completion of 13 years of primary and secondary schooling. The more selective programs can impose further course and grade requirements.

Sample Program

The Bocconi University of Milan offers a new laurea program in business administration (economia aziendale). The program's objective is to give students an understanding of the economic, financial, social, legal, cultural and technical foundations of business, and to equip them with the analytical and decision making skills that will allow them to manage different businesses in a changing environment. Graduates will be qualified for professional and managerial positions in marketing, sales, finance or human resources.

The program is three years in length and requires the completion of 180 ECTS credits (146 credits in compulsory subjects, 12 elective credits, 12 credits in two European languages, four credits in computer science and six credits for the final project). Students who wish to take English as one of their languages must have achieved a minimum TOEFL score of 550 on the paper test or 213 on the computer-based examination. Other English language tests may be used to show a comparable level of proficiency.

During the first year, students study economics, business administration, law, history, quantitative methods and computer science. In the following years, they take marketing, finance, production, logistics, business organization and accounting. Courses in Italian and English are taken throughout the program.


First Year


1) Economic History
2) Mathematics (first module)
3) Principles of Private Law
4) Theory and Principles of Management
5) Computer Skills
6) First Foreign Language (preparatory modules)


1) Accounting and Financial Statements
2) Fundamentals of Management
3) Mathematics (second module)
4) Microeconomics
5) Principals of Public Law
6) First Foreign Language (preparatory modules)

Total first year credits: 62

Second Year


1) Accounting and Financial Statements 2
2) Macroeconomics
3) Organizational Theory
4) Statistics
5) Theory and Principals of Public Management
6) First/Second Foreign Languages (preparatory modules)


1) Corporate Finance
2) Financial Mathematics
3) Managerial Accounting
4) Marketing (taught in Italian)
5) First/Second Foreign Languages (preparatory modules)

Total second year credits: 60

Third Year


1) Financial Markets and Institutions
2) Innovation and Technology Management
3) Management Information Systems
4) Public Economics
5) First Elective Course*
6) Second foreign Language (preparatory modules)


1) Company and Business Law
2) Strategic Management
3) Second Elective Course
4) Second Foreign Language
5) Final Work

Total third year credits: 58
Total credits: 180

University Education in Italy

Degrees Awarded
Years of Study
First Cycle (undergraduate studies)
First Laurea degree program
Laurea (L)
Second Cycle (graduate studies)
Second Laurea degree program
Laurea Specialistica (LS)
First-level specialization-degree program

Diploma di Specializzazione (DS) (Diploma of Specialist) First-level specialization degree

First-level master's degree program
Master di I° Livello
First-level master's degree
Third Cycle (postgraduate studies)
Research Doctorate Program
Dottorato di Ricerca (Research Doctorate)
 Second-level specialization-degree program
Diploma di Specializzazione (Diploma of Specialist) Second-level specialization degree 
 2 - 5
 Second-level master’s degree program
Master di II° Livello Second-level master’s degree 


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