Well the system here is on the other end of the system compared to what we have back at IIMA. Here first of all the Bachelor, Master system and hence have no strict conditions about time limits for finishing the degree, unlike us where there is the usual 4 yrs and 2 yrs. (Though they are now converting to the bachelor and master system to ensure universal acceptability of the degrees) The advantage of their old system was that you could take longer than required and interspaced your terms with as many internships as you wished. I know of people who have 4 or 5 internships before they graduate. This not only helps you to fund your own education, but also get a first hand feel of what you are learning. This coupled with the very open system of courses makes it a potent combination for exploring your career and likes. There is no restriction on the courses you take. A person registered for economics can also take courses in the political science stream or philosophy without anyone questioning him/her. And along the same lines, the responsibility of completing the required courses and credits lies solely with the students themselves. Contrast this with the very fixed and structured system we have back home where everything has been pre-decided based on the stream you choose. If you want to become a electronics engineer, you take courses A, B, C, D and if you want to become a CA you take courses X, Y, Z; but what if I don’t know whether I want to be a CA or an engineer? Well I guess this has something to do with our societal structure and income levels as well where there is not enough time or money with everyone to experiment with their life to see what it is that suits them. Not that either way is better but they are two very distinct ways one more exploratory the other more structured and well planned, pre-decided based on the basic skills essential for one to work as a particular profession.
So on one end you have a prescribed guide book. Learn this much and you will be an engineer, the other is more research oriented. Look at the way the courses are structured. Here though there is classroom teaching and the number of contact hours in class are very less compared to India but the amount of time you spend on your own independent study are comparatively higher. Most courses require you to write a thesis / seminar paper where the more research you do , the more thinking you put in the better grades you get. This system is designed to cater to innovation and creativity. Contrast this with a system where you have a lot of classroom teaching with an even larger number of practice assignments. This may not be the case but in my opinion this system is more designed to produce mass engineers who can do what they are taught to do, well mechanically within the predefined frameworks they have learnt and mastered. Though there will always be some who are really good. Recently there was a lot of talk about outsourcing etc where the developed nations spoke about how the developing countries like India and China are poor at innovation and that the best they can do is take away jobs that the mechanical and thus free up the people there to work on innovation and new products etc. Well, it might not be completely wrong either. Look at the professors here. At least at the Univ of Köln, the only time you are called a professor is when you get “a chair” i.e. when someone sponsors you at the University for “Life”. Thus you have guarantee of tenure, lot of freedom to pursue your own research, structure and decide how many and what courses you want to offer etc. At the same time, the fact that you need to have a PhD, need to have published X number of papers in international journals etc makes it very difficult for any lecturer to get a chair. Once you are a full tenured professor, you have your own library, lots of research assistants who are doing their research under you, who help you with not just the administrative work of your courses. So in effect each professor is more like an independent school in himself in a manner of speaking and students go and check the professor’s website for what courses he is offering and register for them etc. They you also inform the univ that you will be taking the exam for the particular course. Also there are very few courses that have “restrictions” on the number of people who can take the course. Their logic is, if someone is interested why stop someone from taking it. (in contrast to back home where people have to bid for courses) I have seen classrooms that are as huge as an auditorium used for lectures and are full. And in a way, since the education system is more geared towards research and less of classroom teaching the student professor ratio though important is not a limiting factor.
I am not saying that one system is better than the other. One is well suited to developing the required skill sets to pursue a decided profession in the shortest possible time and the other is more suited to exploring what you want to do but at the expense of time. Both have their pros and cons but that is for another post :P