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Duales studium: co-op education on steroids

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Get a job; your boss pays for your studies

Get a job; your boss pays for your studies

One of the more curious new styles of university education I saw in Germany is Duales Studium, (literally double learning, it is often translated as co-op education there). I mentioned this system in a previous post; time for some details, because it is a really interesting approach.

In Canada we are familiar with co-op studies, the kind pioneered by Waterloo University. The basic principle is that, every third semester, students get placed with an employer in their field of studies. It’s as if the university helps the student find a summer job, except that these jobs have been vetted beforehand to ensure that there are relevant to the program of studies. The other difference is that the work terms are scheduled around the year, not just in summer. This way students develop practical skills that reinforces what they learn in school. (They also develop a great network of professional contacts that way; this is one of the reasons why students in my own program, Environmental Protection at Kwantlen, are pretty successful at finding jobs once they graduate.)

The German Duales Studium is similar in the sense that students alternate between paid work terms and academic studies. But there is one key difference, and it is important: students select their university through their potential employer. They stay with this employer for the duration of their program, and are guaranteed a position once they graduate.

For instance, Sören, a bright young man from Hamburg, has always been interested in engineering and cars, so he settled on mechatronics for a field of studies. He looked around Germany for suitable programs, and found that the Duales Studium program at DH Baden-Württemberg, a university in Stuttgart, with a partnership with Porsche, was to his liking. But instead of applying to the university directly and hoping for a placement at Porsche – which is how our own co-op programs work – he applied directly to Porsche. Here’s how the website describes the process:

In order to be enrolled in any of the study programmes offered by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, prospective students first need to apply for a traineeship at any of our partner companies or any approved or otherwise suitable workplace training provider. Enrollment at the university is only possible after a training contract with a workplace training provider has been signed.

He was successful (impressive, that!). Now this will facilitate his planning: he knows he will have an income throughout his studies, and that there is a job waiting for him at the end. The income and certainty means that finding an apartment in a new city and supporting himself is not the gamble that it can be for some students.

Nordakademie (Elbe campus)

Nordakademie (Elbe campus)

Sabrina is another student who opted for Duales Studium, studying business at Nordakademie in Hamburg. She is entering her third year and has just returned from an exchange semester with a partner university in Australia. She found Australia fabulous, of course, but was disappointed with her classes there: a bit too conventional and academic, lacking in practical applications scenarios. This illustrates another aspect of Duales Studium that is important: the curriculum must meet the expectations of the employer. The employer does not dictate what students learn, of course, but nonetheless put a premium on relevant knowledge and skills. This provides a nice check on the tendency of universities to veer towards academic fine points of little relevance.

Could such a system work in Canada? I don’t know. Germany has a lot of manufacturing industry, sure. But Canada still has many jobs for young graduates, and Canadian companies have a stake in recruiting promising employees just as much as their German counterparts.

But it’s not as if it’s a long established tradition in Germany, either. The first career colleges (Berufsakademien) date from 1974, but the concept of true Duales Studium, where students apply to their studies via a potential employer, is quite recent. The program in DH Baden-Württemberg , for instance, dates only from 2009. This system has proven very flexible in meeting workplace needs for well-trained personnel, whether in technical, engineering, or business applications; unsurprisingly, this approach has led to the creation of a whole array of new private universities, all focussed on workplace training. Being private, they collect tuition. But under the Duales Studium system, it is the employers who pay the students tuition; after all the school is providing the training system for them. But this is not just narrow training; since these universities needed government accreditation, they must offer a true education, covering a breadth of topics. It is hard to see a downside for students. Traditional universities may argue that these new players are taking the cream of the crop; but these offerings are few in numbers and there is ample room for diversity in the system. If anything, it is the traditional technical colleges (such as HAW) that may lose the best students.

Details can be found here, here, or here (in German). I particularly like this search engine site here: students look for a company first, and only then look for a partner university. Completely the opposite of what students do here. Something to consider, anyways. (I like to imagine the development of a well trained work force of environmental engineers and technicians pioneering this system in Canada…am I a dreamer?)

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Written by enviropaul

February 10, 2016 at 1:02 pm

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