Students

Kate Latak on studying psychology in Europe.
DURING the Congress of European Psychology Students, I interviewed psychology students from 11 countries across Europe to get an idea of what it is like to study psychology in other countries. In the light of a united Europe and the anticipation of the European Diploma of Psychology, I hope my findings will be of interest and help countries to learn from each other.

DURING the Congress of European Psychology Students, I interviewed psychology students from 11 countries across Europe to get an idea of what it is like to study psychology in other countries. In the light of a united Europe and the anticipation of the European Diploma of Psychology, I hope my findings will be of interest and help countries to learn from each other.

Entry requirements

These vary considerably. In the UK it is moderately difficult to get onto a psychology degree, but in Germany, Kosovo, Norway and Poland it is very difficult to secure
a place. The UK universities look more at applicants’ overall abilities (marks, interests, motivation for applying). On the other hand, Germany, for example, bases entry entirely on a points system derived from exam results. Students from some countries (e.g. Poland) said their entrance exams were very difficult, whereas others (e.g. from Spain or Greece) said they were quite easy. Depending on the country, these exams test basic knowledge in psychology, biology, maths and verbal abilities.
Differences in entry requirements are largely down to the amount of places available. Students from eastern Europe mentioned a lack of government funding and a lack of staff to teach psychology. In other countries, entry is difficult because demand to study psychology is high.
At first sight, getting in easily sounds best. But if too many students are admitted, the value of the degree is reduced due to big lecture theatres and little scope for group work. A compromise between these two extremes is needed to optimise the psychology degree across Europe.

Tuition fees

The UK has the highest tuition fees, with students in most other European countries paying little or nothing. Perhaps higher tuition fees means better resources for students, but should the ‘have-nots’ be denied or disadvantaged?

Structure of the degree/course

Courses are similar in most European countries but different from the UK. The major difference is that in the rest of Europe students commit to psychology and become qualified psychologists through a continuous five-year master’s programme. In the UK, only around 20 per cent opt for further study after their bachelor’s degree. Virtually any route is open and an undergraduate degree in psychology is seen as a good prerequisite and skills package to any employment.
Another variation is in the amount of hours students spend in lectures and seminars. Spare a thought for your German counterparts: they can have up to 30 hours a week, whereas the UK tends to be closer to 10. In most European countries, the timetable is very flexible and designed by students. There are many optional classes to choose from, offered several times during a week.
Perhaps UK students, being younger on average than students in other European countries, benefit from a more structured course but with the opportunity to explore psychology without commitment. In the rest of Europe, committing to a career is more acceptable for older students, thus a master’s programme was the result.
Europe is beginning to follow the UK system because it gives students greater flexibility in career choices and the possibility of studying throughout Europe. However, both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. In many European countries, students complain about their degrees being disorganised and lecturers having to start from zero each time because students take different classes. In the UK, students complain about not having enough options to choose from. Further, there is greater competition for graduate studies in the UK, as the route to become a qualified psychologist is not continuous. Thus UK students have to re-apply to university after three years and experience anxiety in the process.

Assessment

The assessment emphasis is different in the UK from in the rest of Europe. In the UK, ‘practicals’ are a major focus of the degree. In most other European countries there is more emphasis on essays, consisting of a collection of theories and case reports. Finland seems to have found the right balance of theory and practice, by emphasising research but also integrating clinical placements into the degree.

These are only some of the differences in the way psychology is taught across Europe. The reasons for these differences seem to lie in the variety of academic, social and health systems in Europe. Regular exchanges between psychology students and psychology professionals from different countries can minimise the differences in Europe’s psychology degrees. They can optimise the students’ learning experience and educational value by taking out the best features of each country’s psychology.
The first step towards ‘European union’ would be to attend a Congress of Psychology Students and talk to fellow students from around Europe! This year’s was in the Czech Republic, next year it will be in Finland.

- Kate Latak is an undergraduate at the University of Portsmouth. E-mail: [email protected].

Don’t forget to visit the forum, via www.thepsychologist.org.uk. Discuss psychology, seek work experience, read reports of events (including a recent student event from the Wessex and Wight Branch) and more. 

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