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It was not a mistake. I was just a little naive. Looking for chances to develop my character as well as my resume, I found a great international study program on my home university's web page. I applied and got accepted. All the info I had was really promising, and that's what I based my decision upon. Boy, have I ever been this disappointed.
I did my Bachelor's at Aalto University, Finland, and spent a semester abroad at Fudan University, China. Both institutions had their perks and quirks, but in general I had been happy about the education I'd gotten in each – challenging studies and easy studying, as it should be.
As you might imagine, when I moved to Germany to study for a Double Master's Program at the University of Cologne, I was more than excited. Having been in Cologne for almost a year now, I am willing to admit, I love the city: the open atmosphere, the Karneval, the beautiful riverside, the salad buffet at the student cafeteria, the fact I can bike 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, it sucks balls.Let me tell you why.
The stereotypical picture you might have about Germany – of efficiency nearing perfection – might be true for your neighbor's Audi, but it has nothing to do with the education here. The structures I've countered studying here are inefficient, bureaucratic, downright outdated and worst of all, untrustworthy. I'm not telling you this because I dislike the university or like whining – quite the opposite, I'm telling you this because I do care and I know it can be changed. By writing this to you, my friend, I'm putting you in charge of changing the system.
I'll first offer a list of symptoms that reflect the sad state UoC – or, more specifically, the Faculty of Finance – is in and I'll give my best at figuring out how to fix them. Also, I try to concentrate on the essentials, so instead of complaining about the windowless buildings and uncomfortable seats, I'll focus on institutional concerns. I also don't care about academic rankings (Cologne actually ranks fairly well), but on things important to students.
Moreover, a fair disclaimer. I only speak of experience, and I have not attended every course the university has to offer, nor every university Germany has to offer. Besides, not every course I've attended is really that horrible – some are, but some would get a butterfly sticker for giving it a proper try (in the unnecessarily tight frames set by UoC authorities). As another disclaimer, even though I talk about the University, some critique really applies just to the finance courses. Bear with me.
1. The Pedagogy – or the lack thereof
The University of Cologne was founded in 1388, and the pedagogy seems to stem from medieval times as well. In a normal course I have lectures – for example listening to a monologue – and exercise sessions, which also consist solely of listening to a monologue, but this time you have to write everything down. Lose focus, and you lose two lines of an equation you won't be solving alone. I really want to stress this one: You are copying your assistant's handwritten notes, by hand, and a few months later you try to decipher the hieroglyphs.
How about..? Upload the solutions online – so you have time to discuss the exercises, and see whether students had trouble! As such, exercise sessions have no value beyond providing you with the right solutions. If your friend has a scanner, you have zero reason to attend.