Are MOOCs pointless or worthwhile?

Confidence in the technician is waning

Since a decision by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in 2009, more and more universities have opened their doors to practitioners. Many masters and technicians take up the offer of an academic degree while working. The technical qualification is eroding under the constant trend towards higher qualifications.

Continuing education: In practice, the academic degree is worth more than the professional one.

Photo: dpa / Hendrik Schmidt

Production mechanic, mechanical engineer, future systems engineer Matthias Scheck, 24 years old, has been with BMW in Regensburg for over eight years. During that time, he has continuously trained. While as a high school student he “got through math and physics with a bang”, the desire to increase his knowledge grew in him over the years.

Trend towards higher qualifications

Just like Scheck, many technicians and experienced professionals enjoy an academic degree. Until 2009 it was extremely complicated with a secondary school leaving certificate. According to a decision by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, however, in 2010 alone, according to a study by the Center for Higher Education Development (CHE), 9,241 people without a high school diploma enrolled in higher education. Of these, 28% opted for a mathematical, natural or engineering subject.

“If you look at statistics,” says Bernd Schinke, the chairman of the conference of the faculty days, a lobby group for the universities of applied sciences, “it's frightening how the good specialists in vocational education are breaking away from us.” Politicians have it for good reason Bachelor's degree and the vocational qualifications technician and master are classified as equivalent. Nice try. "This social upgrading," says the college representative, "will not stop the trend towards higher qualifications."

Matthias Scheck is the best example of this. "I turned down the technician position offered to me and instead went to university because I really wanted to achieve more."

BMW supports with flexible working hours

Almost all countries have meanwhile made it easier for practitioners to access universities. The University of Regensburg started in October 2011 with the engineering degree course system technology, of which Scheck belongs to the first year. “The majority of our students have advanced professional training to become technicians or masters,” says Sandra Bauer, consultant for advanced training and knowledge management at the University of Regensburg.

This is also made possible by the companies of employees interested in studying. BMW supports Scheck with flexible working time models. "If necessary, I can drastically reduce my working hours from 35 hours a week." To up to 18 hours a week - "always with the option of increasing again".

It requires discipline from the students. “During my qualification as a technician, I proved myself that I can continue my education alongside my job,” says Scheck. “Now the effort should pay off both for him and for his employer.

Different pay between technicians and engineers

The part-time student is certain that he will be offered a suitable job after completing his studies. Although he is familiar with the reports about atypical employment and the warnings from IG Metall not to be satisfied with positions as an engineer, he is not worried about them.

“BMW makes a distinction between technicians and engineers when it comes to remuneration, and I think that's right,” says the future engineer. Before he started studying, he had a different opinion, but “now I see everything that can be known”. In further training to become a technician, many details are left out or only treated superficially. He has therefore not regretted the decision to study without classic access authorization for a second.

However, many practitioners are very shy. Some fear a complicated admission procedure, others do not trust their knowledge of the natural sciences and mathematics. The universities have just responded to these concerns, says Schinke.

There are hardly any obstacles to admission

He hardly sees any obstacles in the approval process. Interested parties can search the Internet specifically for courses that are open to professionals without a high school diploma. The problem, however, is the recognition of further training courses or working hours as a substitute for study content, according to Schinke. "The knowledge acquired is rarely documented in writing and there is hardly any coordination between the vocational schools and the universities." In addition, most courses started with theoretical content, such as mathematics - a completely unsuitable approach for practitioners.

Most universities offer their students math courses before they start their studies and tutorials during the semester. The demand is high - as long as there is time.

When the exam time approaches, Scheck increases his learning workload enormously and reduces his working hours accordingly. "The time I need to study increases from a few hours a week from eight weeks before the exam to at least 15 hours a week."

Hope for a career jump

The young man gets through it because he hopes it will give him a career jump. He is thus escaping a "form of discrimination", as Peter Schühly from the Association of Technicians calls it. Many technicians, especially in the public sector, but also in the private sector, would do engineering tasks every day without being paid accordingly. Studying is a way out of this dilemma.

In any case, the check was packed with ambition. "I would advise every practitioner who is looking for a challenge to study engineering." Bauer confirms: "In principle, there is no subject that is not suitable for studying without a high school diploma."

(In this article, “people without a high school diploma” are all those who do not have a classic university entrance qualification.)


A contribution from:

  • Lisa Diez-Holz

    The author was content manager for the TechnikKarriere-News-Portal of the VDI Verlag from 2017 to the end of 2019. Before that, she wrote for VDI nachrichten as an editor.