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The European educational system: pros and cons

Vladislav Myrsin

2 July 2023

#EDUCATION

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"I will always have time to live at home. You should really go see the world and experience new things while you`re still young. Besides, holding a diploma of European university is pretty prestigious." With all that in mind, recent high-school graduates make their choice in favor of studying at universities in Europe.

The author of the GoStudy blog Alexandra Baranova talks about the advantages and disadvantages of studying in the Czech Republic, France, Germany and other countries.

For sure, a diploma is only a stepping stone on the way to a prestigious job and high earnings. However, in modern day and age just holding a well-favored "sheepskin" is usually not enough. Employers tend to value the level of skills and knowledge that the applicant is able to immediately put into practice rather than the availability of the document on education. This is a key feature of the European educational system: it`s geared towards not only obtaining theoretical knowledge, but developing practical skills as well.

Advantages of studying in Europe

Let's look at the example of a student whose name is Nina. She is 18 years old, graduated with honors from a university-preparatory school in Tomsk, her goal is to become a film director, and she decided to continue her studies in the Czech Republic. The goal is the Film and TV School

  • High level of level of students' training.

Nina will learn to make films in a modern studio using great technology rather than the outdated equipment. Lectures and practical classes will be conducted by practicing professionals who can back up any theory with an example from their own work. Nina will have access to libraries and extensive databases of film and photographic materials, which are generally inaccessible.

  • Excellent career prospects and a high level of employment.

Already during her studies, Nina will have the opportunity to meet professionals of the cinema world and prove herself: participate in projects, festivals, get a unpaid internship. Active, skillful and willing students tend to have job offers as early as towards the end of their studies. They don`t even have to look for a job – job opportunities are handed to them.

  • Flexible system of specialization selection.

The ECTS credit system, which allows students to singlehandedly choose subjects they are most interested in, is implemented In European universities. Nina can either make documentary short films or, conversely, feature art films, make a choice in favor of animation or commercials.

  • Freedom of movement throughout European countries.

It's not that unusual for European students to spend one or two terms in another country under the ERASMUS+ program. This allows you to expand your horizons, get acquainted with the professionals in your field, and possibly get job offers after graduation. For creative minds, a trip abroad can serve as a valuable source of inspiration.

In addition, the European student visa allows you to travel during your break. Nina tried out surfing in Portugal, walked through the museums of Paris, admired the architecture of Barcelona and lounged at the seaside in Italy. All of that only took her to buy a plane or bus ticket and book a place to stay.

  • Exploring new culture and language.

"As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being." This quote from Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is perfectly suited to describe European education. As a rule, graduates of European universities speak at least two languages: a) English, b) the language their classes were taught in. Most of the educational literature is written in English. In case if Nina gets admitted to a state-funded education program of Charles University, she will study in Czech and communicate in English a lot. If she decides to go for example, to France under ERASMUS+, then she will have to learn French. The ability to speak several languages is valued in the labor market no less than a European university diploma.

Disadvantages of European education

  • Cultural differences

Moving to another country is always accompanied by adaptation. The Czech Republic is popular among applicants from many countries of the world due to the mentality of its inhabitants. However, there are still cultural differences that you will inevitably have to get used to.

  • Language barrier

The most hasteless and reliable way to get admitted to a state-funded education program of a Czech university is to devote a year to studying Czech through specialized classes (GoStudy, for example). However, even after receiving the B2 level certificate, it takes time to warm up to talking. You will be able to chat and joke freely about three or four years into living in the country, and that`s completely normal. And it's one thing to order a cake and Americano at a coffee shop, and quite another - to write a paper for university seminar or defend a project in Czech.

However, after a couple of years of studying in Czech and reading books in English, Nina faced another problem: she felt that she was beginning to gradually lose her native language. To maintain it at the proper level, in her free time she reads classical literature in her native language.

  • The difficulty of choosing a university

"Where should I study, in Prague or in Brno? Or should I maybe go to France or Spain instead of the Czech Republic? Or to one of the Nordic countries? This university is great. But is that one worse? And the program is also pretty appealing ..." This cocktail of thoughts is familiar to everyone who plans to study in Europe. In order for you to make the right choice, your "research work" should better be started in advance.

In 9th grade, Nina made a decision that she wanted to go to Europe, and announced this at a family meeting. Together with her parents, they studied the list of the best universities, assessed the pros and cons of the European educational system, and chose several noteworthy options. Following that, Nina found students of these universities on Facebook, asked them for more information and came to the conclusion that she wanted to study in Prague, at the Film and TV School.

  • Nostrification

The procedure of nostrification of an existing diploma or school certificate is an obligatory condition for admission to European university. Sometimes in order to do so you need to pass exams in certain subjects.

Nina had to pass computer science, chemistry and geography, as the number of hours in her certificate was not up to Czech standards.

  • All the red tape with documents

"You snooze, you lose" European universities have clear deadlines for submitting documents, and if you do not meet them, you are going to lose a year. Therefore, it`s best to start the preparation of a package of your documents in advance. Writing motivational letters, collecting recommendations, translating and certifying school certificates and diplomas, applying for visa – all of that takes a lot of time.

That is why, as we remember, Nina first started talking about studying abroad in the ninth grade.

  • Search for housing

One of the significant disadvantages of studying in Europe is the housing issue. Students usually choose between a dormitory and a rental apartment. However, when living in a dormitory you have to put up with the presence of roommates, and renting an apartment by yourself can be pretty pricy.

Nina, being the creative person that she is, loves solitude, and the thought of living in a dormitory scares her a little. Therefore, she works part-time in the evenings, does translations in order to afford a separate apartment.

  • Finances

Paperwork and translation of the documents, housing rent, food, travelling, clothing, books – even free education in Europe is accompanied by unavoidable costs. Therefore, Nina and her parents made this decision with enough lead time. It was imperative, in order to redistribute the family budget and gear up.

Many first-year students gravitate towards combining their studies with a part-time job. However, it is worth considering that a) not all programmes allow that. Medical and legal studies are completely incompatible with a part-time job; b) during the exam period, final exams as well as while writing a thesis or defending projects, you will have to forget about your part-time job. Therefore, it is worthwhile to take care of your financial "cushion" ahead of time.

The pros and cons of studying in several European countries that often attract applicants are listed below.

The Czech Republic

Pros: high–quality and high-level education, social support for students - various discounts, low living costs compared to other European countries. It`s possible to work while studying.

Cons: high competition for legal, educational, economic, medical programmes. In order to get admitted to a state-funded education program, it is necessary to have a good level of Czech, and all foreigners must pass the certificate exam (B2–C1, depending on the specialization).

Poland

Pros: a fairly simple procedure for entering the university and low tuition costs. You can start enrolling immediately after graduating from high school. For students with excellent academic performance, a scholarship and a discount on tuition are provided. Polish belongs to the Slavic language group along with Czech. Cons: Polish universities do not appear at the first positions of the world ratings, so you should carefully weigh all the pros and cons.

The QS World University Rankings 2022 rating includes only 19 Polish universities, and neither of them are at the highest positions. For comparison: 16 Czech universities are included in this rating, although the Czech Republic itself is almost four times smaller than Poland.

No one but postgraduate students has an opportunity to work while studying; undergraduate and master's programme students are eligible to do so only for three months per year (pretty much purely during the summer break).

Great Britain

Pros: British universities are featured in the top tiers of world rankings alongside universities of the United States of America, so there's no doubting the quality of education they offer. The graduates are showered with job offers, plus it`s possible for them to find employment in any country of the world. England owns a rich cultural and historical heritage, which allows you to spend your free time in a way that is both enjoyable and meaningful. Students of English universities have the right to combine their studies with a job.

Cons: huge competition for prestigious universities and high tuition fees. It is not easy to open or extend a student visa. The most favorable option for enrolling in a British university would be to do so either after finishing the bachelor's degree at home, or having completed preparatory classes in the United Kingdom.

France

Pros: the homeland of haute couture and Michelin cuisine has a lot to offer to foreigners. In your spare time, you can travel to the French regions, walk through museums, enjoy crispy croissants, or lose yourself in the depths of the ancient libraries. Low tuition fees when studying in French at a state university as well as an opportunity to earn extra money while studying make this country especially attractive.

Cons: living expenses in France are high. You are required to have at least B2 level of French. French universities have a pretty tricky system of examinations and achieving academic qualifications. It is absolutely necessary to meet the deadlines so as not to be expelled.

Germany

Pros: a graduate of a German university can easily find a job not only in Germany but in other European countries as well. It`s not that difficult to get admitted to university. To do so, you will need to take preparatory classes at the chosen university or complete the first year of studies at home. Education in German universities is free, when it comes to the state educational institutions only an administrative fee of up to five hundred euros per year is charged.

Cons: German, unlike melodic sounding Italian or romantic French, is not everyone's cup of tea, but learning it is very much possible. Upon admission to university, you will need German (B2 level and higher) and English (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) certificates.

Summing up

Studying in Europe is a costly undertaking in terms of effort, time and finances. You must be absolutely confident in the program you have chosen, and also have remarkable hard work, willpower and a certain degree of independence in order to cope with the period of acclimatization in new conditions, solve everyday problems and not “fail” your studies along the way. The European education system has its pros and cons, and you need to understand which of them are disadvantageous for you. However, studying in Europe and becoming independent away from home is a tremendous experience that cannot be obtained at home.

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