The Bologna Process and Psychology

The Psychology Programmes offered at the Sigmund Freud University in the light of the challenges of the Bologna Process.

On June 19th, 1999, representatives of 29 European countries announced and signed the “Joint Declaration of the European Ministers of Education” in Bologna, creating a “European Higher Education Area.” This statement was primarily designed to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of European higher education qualifications and thus facilitate the mobility of students. A visible result of the so-called Bologna Process is the implementation of a two-tiered system of academic degrees: the Bachelor’s degree after three years of study and the Master’s degree after two additional years.

For psychology this change involves unique challenges: the requirements of the Bologna Model to teach professional practical skills within the Bachelor programme is in diametrical opposition to former and current psychology curricula offered at public universities. The traditional curricula in German-speaking countries emphasise a purely scientific education, especially during the first years of study. Professional specifications started – often only rudimentarily – the earliest in higher semesters or – as in Austria in the fields of health and clinical psychology – only in postgraduate programmes.

Legal situation in Austria

These training structures are based on national legislations on the profession of psychologists. According to the ” Psychologist’s Act “, enforced in Austria in 1990, graduates carrying a Bachelor’s degree in psychology are legally not permitted to work as a psychologist in their own practice, or carry the title. However, under legal employed they are able to work in psychological fields (e.g. in HR departments of businesses or as psychological advisors to specific projects such as public policy development).

In German-speaking countries various Bachelor programmes have been implemented according to and depending on the structural characteristics of different universities. Large universities have the opportunity to offer different modules within a broad human or social sciences Bachelor programme (including e.g. psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, etc.). The most common model has a major/minor structure (e.g. majoring in psychology and minor in sociology). Clearly the conception of a Bachelor’s degree functioning on its own as qualification for the profession of a psychologist is lost in such a model. Rather, the basic study courses within a Bachelor’s degree can be viewed as preparatory courses for following specialised studies within Master’s programmes. Bachelor’s programmes that meet the Bologna requirements in terms of providing professional practical training within the first years of studies explicitly target specialisations within the field: the University of Bochum, Germany is an example with their Bachelor in Business Psychology.