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.