European Universities vs. American Universities: We Win

European universities are nothing like American colleges and universities.

That’s the conclusion that I drew during our family’s two-week vacation in Spain and France. We were visiting my daughter Caitlin, who has been attending the University of Barcelona for two semesters.

During the vacation, I kept getting into conversations with Europeans about their universities. I had some knowledge about European universities, but the conversations reinforced what I already believed:

Compared to the European universities, Americans are very, very fortunate to possess their own unique higher-education system.

In Europe, a college education is cheap or even free and offer no frills. In Europe, you won’t find the cute liberal arts colleges where the classes are small and the professors are eager to be mentors. In Europe, classes are typically held lecture-style and professors don’t consider their roles to be mentors.  But size alone doesn’t explain the difference. Most Americans, after all, attend large state schools.

At the University of Barcelona and many other European universities, there is no central campus. The university buildings are scattered across the city. Lots of these buildings look more like office complexes. There is no heart of the university. No quadrangle to meet. No dormitories. No sports teams. No mascots.

In a subway in Paris, I struck up a conversation with a young Parisian attorney, who told me that he had gotten his MBA at the University of Chicago. He said he loved going to the University of Chicago and what he really appreciated was being about to touch his professors. I thought it was a curious choice of words, but Caitlin explained that from her experience in Europe the professors stand on raised platforms during lectures and their desk are equipped with see-through panels that separate them from pupils.

I also struck up a conversation with a physician in Great Britain, who had attended the University of Oxford. He said he wished that Great Britain offered liberal arts colleges as they do in The States. At Oxford, he only got one year to pursue a broad array of liberal arts before he was required to only take courses in his major.

We all like to gripe about higher-education in the United States, with cost being the No. 1 complaint.  I thought, however, that I’d give everyone a reason to feel fortunate that our children will be receiving their college degrees from institutions in this country.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

Further Reading:

German University: Roughing It In College

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3 Responses to “European Universities vs. American Universities: We Win”

  1. Dave Salamander September 16, 2010 at 12:45 am #

    You need a wider perspective. Visit institutions in Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and other countries and then come back to the table.

  2. ?????????????? October 1, 2010 at 6:47 am #

    I got my BA in political science at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, briefly attended the University of Baltimore Law School (I eventually left law school in good standing due to general disillusionment with the legal industry) and later completed my MSc in International Relations and foreign languages at Royal Holloway, University of London in Egham, Surrey, UK and also received certificate degrees in foreign languages from the London School of Economics and Political Science in London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

    I must say that your perspective is baffling to me and it really doesn’t appear that you’ve done any serious investigation into the subject. My time at these two school as well as within both the UK and US educational systems made me realize some sad truths about what I had always believed about US education. Sadly, it’s primarily money driven for one thing and the education in our liberal arts colleges is mainly fluff…good parties though, those I did enjoy but the education wasn’t as good as I got elsewhere (and there are apparently only 39 other colleges ranked higher than mine in the US) and then there is the price and the loans. I paid 3 times what my EU counterparts did to get a masters and it was still a deal compared to what my expenses would have been in the US. Plus, I feel I got so much more than I ever could have in the US; I doubt you would see the advantages during a 2 week family vacation.

    I want to get a PhD but I want to keep the loans down. I’ve already completely and totally given up on applying to US school because my experience has taught me that, frankly (and I hate saying this), they are more expensive and nowhere near as good as my options elsewhere. And, while I almost want to go to a US school based on sheer patriotism, I realize how foolish that would be (the same US school system is keeping so many in massive debt).

    So, my question to you is, if I have to take US based loans, which would you advise. Additionally, what are your thoughts on this.. or any thing related to getting rid of existing loans. Can I return my degree for a refund? Thanks

  3. Veronica Wessler October 25, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    College is not just for sports, mascots, etc. We have this in American high schools. I attend college in Germany, and frankly, I believe that not only is the education better here, but I also don’t miss the school sports, raggy mascot costumes, but yes, most of all I don’t miss waking up knowing I will need to work half my life for my education. I agree with the statement above. You were there for two weeks.

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