• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Studying in Germany left me down in the dumps

The Local · 1 Sep 2015, 16:26

Published: 01 Sep 2015 16:26 GMT+02:00

See the original version of Juuso Nisula's blog post here. We've also included responses to each of his points from Cologne University's International Prorector Gudrun Gersmann, as published in Die Zeit.

As you might imagine, when I moved to Germany to study for a double master’s programme in the University of Cologne (UoC), I was excited.

After a year, I love the city: the open atmosphere, the Karneval, the beautiful riverside, the salad buffet at the student cafeteria, biking anywhere in ten minutes, grilling in the park on a warm day, buying beer at a kiosk after midnight, the people.

Being a student, however, the largest part of my time here goes into studies. And in Cologne, those suck balls.

Here are the main things that got me down during my time on the Rhine:

1) Teaching

Is this the best way to learn in the 21st Century? Photo: DPA

UoC was founded in 1388, and its teaching style stems from medieval times. There are lectures – i.e. listening to a monologue – and exercise sessions, which involve noting everything down from a monologue.

That second one means you are copying your lecturer's handwritten notes, and then a few months later trying to decipher your hieroglyphs.

How about...?

Upload solutions to exercises online! That would save time to discuss the exercises and see if the students had trouble with them. As they are, the sessions have no value beyond providing you with the right solutions.

UoC response:

"All our information can be looked up online. Videos, PowerPoint slides and texts... many have already noticed that we have installed cameras in all the lecture halls. Soon all lectures will be put online lightning-fast."

2) Grading

In my ten courses here, worth six credits each, grading was based almost solely on exams. No cases, no presentations, no essays, no assignments, no learning diaries, no learning groups, no pondering, no critique, no independent thinking or feedback whatsoever.

The system rewards learning by heart over the frantic few days before the exam – only to forget everything the week after. Compare that to any worthwhile university, and you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry.

How about..?

As leading science educator Lawrence Krauss put it: Testing inevitably means you teach students to pass tests. That might have nothing to do with the problems students face ten years later when applying their skills in real life.

So teach us! Force students to study during the semester with homework. Promote understanding by assigning big-picture essays. Make us learn the methods by giving us assignments to try applying the theories in a case study.

That way we’ll learn, and hopefully won’t forget everything the moment we start studying for the next exam. Yale, MIT, UCLA, or even more moderately funded universities like Aalto and Fudan are good examples.

3) Exams

The main entrance to the University of Cologne. Photo: DPA

Forgot to stretch your fingers before the exam? Uh-oh. In Cologne, taking exams is a race against time.

In finance, you have 60 minutes and up to 20 questions. The aim is not to test understanding, but your ability to knock out a ridiculous number of easy questions fast. In one exam, I had to answer the same question five times (with different numbers), as if the second time around would test my abilities in any useful way.

This is ridiculous - especially in an age where every fact can be checked in seconds, while concepts get more and more complicated.

How about..?

Test whether we understand the material and give us a proper challenge! Just don’t make it artificially difficult by limiting the time to 60 minutes.

I'd prefer exams that last hours and really push my cognitive abilities to the limit – way more rewarding than a sprint.

4) IDs, cards and paper-shuffling

Keep yourself warm on long evenings at the cafeteria by complaining heatedly about the bureaucracy. Photo: DPA

Bureaucracy, anyone?

At UoC, everybody has a student card. It’s a piece of paper you’re probably going to rip sometime during its six-month validity (and don’t laminate it, you’ll need the hologram). It has no picture on it, so you need a normal ID to go with it.

Then there’s the card you use to pay at the student cafeteria, and one for library, and another one for printing at said library.

And to sit exams you’ll need an exam ID, separate from your student card.

How about..?

Have one student card that works everywhere. You could even connect it to your credit card, smart phone, or, the hell with it, your fingerprint!

To be fair, though, UoC is fixing this issue next semester. The students here are getting the one-card-does-all solution.

UoC response:

"As Juuso Nisula mentioned, it's true that we are abolishing the paper student ID. Next year we'll have the UCCard. It's all digital and the precursor to a complex campus management system to organize all your studies."

5) Prüfungsamt

The Prüfungsamt is the office that manages exams.

They’ll schedule all your exams in one week after Karneval, or even all on one day in the month-long exam period.

They’re the people that look you in the face and say "not my problem" when you’re looking for advice.

They’re the people who demand you do everything by the exact date and time they impose, and then miss all their own deadlines.

They reject email, which perfectly embodies their attitude towards students. If we were in China, I’d suppose the Party wanted to keep some unemployed people busy and decided to add an extra unit into the organizational structure.

How about..?

Everything I said about saving money and nerves above applies. Just get rid of the whole Prüfungsamt. That’s how they roll elsewhere, and it works better.

If nothing else, at least make them use email.

7) Facilities

Some students end up working anywhere there's space. Photo: DPA

UoC has no 24/7 facilities, very little space for group work and practically no computers – which reflects both outdated teaching methods and a disregard for students’ interests.

The only space open on Sundays is the library, which is too small to serve the whole university. Power plugs are a rare commodity and snacks aren't allowed.

And when lectures end in July and people start their frantic studying for the exams, instead of providing additional work spaces, the university actually REDUCES the number of available facilities.

How about..?

Remember the new student card I mentioned? How about using that as a key card for 24/7 access into some of the facilities? That’s the way it works elsewhere - with no additional costs.

8) Failure to communicate

Communication? There is none. Two weeks before the next semester starts, you don’t even know your grades from the previous one, nor which courses will be offered in the next – I got the last exam results from mid-February in May!

Students are literally trying to interpret exam result charts from last year in a desperate attempt to find out in which month they might have exams this year.

Two key courses are suddenly removed from the semester when the professor gets pregnant. My study programme is officially in English, but suddenly one of the mandatory courses is offered only in German. I’m lucky enough to know the language, but God have mercy upon those who don't.

How about..?

The first thing you have to do to improve communication is to get your head out of your arse and stop forgetting communication tools exist.

Students need information. Please, tell us relevant information on time, it makes everybody’s life a bit easier. Pretty please.

UoC response:

"We communicate, but in such a big institution it takes a while... honestly, the other universities Juuso mentions are either privately financed or have access to multiple times the resources that we have here in Germany. We are one of the only countries where you can study WITHOUT fees.

"If you visit our new website, you'll see that we have an international portal, completely in German and English with advice for getting through your studies, links to our advisers and tips for life in Cologne."

Juuso's Conclusion

There has to be a fundamental change in the way University of Cologne, or specifically, the Faculty of Finance functions as a system.

I’ll use my other home university, Aalto in Helsinki, as an example.

To exaggerate a bit, there are good things and bad things about the university: the bad things tend to be the ones given from above, the good ones have usually been born somewhere in the organization, then tested and – if it turns out to be smart – implemented.

This generates grassroots movements that spot problems and then aim to fix them.

Germany as a whole should take serious steps towards a bottom-up approach.

Maybe then, one day, University of Cologne will be the engine of enlightenment I hoped it would be.

Or if not, at least now you’ve been given a fair warning: don't study in Germany, it's a pain in the ass.

Does Juuso's experience chime with how you found studying in Germany? Were UoC's responses satisfactory? Let us know in the comments!

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
 'One dead and two injured' in Germany machete attack
News channel NTV said there were scenes of panic in the city centre following the attack. Photo: DPA

A 21-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker killed a woman and injured two people with a machete Sunday in the southwest German city of Reutlingen in an incident local police said did not bear the hallmarks of a "terrorist attack".

Munich gunman planned attacks for one year: officials
Vigils continue in Munich to commemorate the victims, seven of whom were teenagers. Photo: DPA

The teenage gunman who killed nine people in Munich on Friday had been planning his attack for a year, according to German authorities.

Germany grapples with enigma of Munich gunman
A debate is already underway as to whether Germany's gun laws, which are already strict, should be tightened further. Photo: AFP

Investigators were seeking clues on Sunday into the mind of gunman David Ali Sonboly, the teen author of one of Germany's bloodiest killing sprees.

Munich shooting
 Social media a blessing and a curse in Munich shooting
The Munich gunman may have hacked a Facebook account to lure some of the victims to the McDonald's fast-food outlet where the shooting began. Photo: DPA

Social networks were both a curse and a blessing in the deadly shopping mall shooting in Munich, as police sometimes found themselves chasing fictitious leads and false alarms.

Munich shooting
Munich pulls together after shopping mall shooting
Photo: DPA

In the chaos after the Munich mall shooting, city residents spontaneously offered shelter to strangers - a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel said showed that Germany's strength lies in its values.

Munich shooting
Merkel deplores 'night of horror' in Munich
Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Munich had suffered a "night of horror" after a shooting spree in the southern German city left nine people dead.

Munich shooting
Munich attacker was shy video game fan
People laying flowers at the site of the shootings. Photo: DPA.

David Ali Sonboly was a quiet, helpful teenager who loved playing video games. His neighbours say there were no warning signs before his deadly rampage at a Munich shopping mall.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman inspired by rightwing Breivik: police
Photo: DPA

The lone teenager who shot dead nine people in a gun rampage in Munich was "obsessed" with mass killers such as Norwegian rightwing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and had no links to the Islamic State group, police said Saturday.

Munich shooting
Turks, Kosovans and a Greek among shooting victims
Photo: DPA

Three Turkish citizens were among the nine people killed in Germany's Munich mall shooting. Three Kosovans were also among the nine victims.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman was likely not Isis terrorist: police
Flowers laid at the Olympia Shopping Centre underground station. Photo: DPA

According to initial investigations by Munich police, the young man who went on a shooting rampage in Munich on Friday evening was a lone gunman without motive, not a terrorist.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Analysis & Opinion
Nice was an attack on France, not on Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,742
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd