A conversation with Dan Reynolds on Bachelor & Master

Since I am working on our beloved Modulhandbücher again, I’d like to share an – Achtung! – extensive post-exchange I had with Dan Reynolds recently. Maybe it’s of interest for some of you.

Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 8:45 Uhr
which kook invented this sick system of BA/MA and its demand for totally new curriculum descriptions – blockades me for days.

Dan Reynolds am 10. Juli um 10:44
I can’t quite feel your pain on this one :( I am sorry that you have extra work, but the change in Germany is long overdue. International study is a must now, and archaic national degrees belong to the past. It took me ages to even figure out how to study further in Germany after I graduated with my American BFA from RISD, and I had already spent a semester abroad in this country. For a French or Dutch student, it would have been just as difficult, which is an EU no-go.

Obviously, I am quite a fan of Germany’s design education system, or at least the theory of how it can create quality and innovation. But to say that it is significantly better than Holland, the UK, or the USA, just because its students (used to) study longer under a more open-ended structure is just not accurate.

Indra Kupferschmid am 10. Juli um 12:06
Dan! funnily enough I had a look at the curriculum of RISD just this morning and was impressed that they offer a 5-year BA.
Our problem is home-made German, since most of the schools attempt to squeeze the former 5-year-content into a 3-year-programm, which can’t work. Insane pressure and rush is put on students, they stopped going abroad (thus the contrary to intention!) or trying something off the paths which I consider indispensable for designers. Furthermore individual approval of work or studies done elsewhere isn’t made easier. Some schools abroad don’t accept german 3-y-BAs for a MA.
But my complaint at the moment is more about the silly conventions on language and style these curricula have to be written in it seems … »designer’s competences are …« and all this modul-shit with credit points, workload, codes and such.

Dan Reynolds am 10. Juli um 12:30
If I remember correctly, the 5-year BA (the BGD) is just an add on… an extra year for students who want to do some sort of additional work. The 4-year BFA is what most students, including myself, actually did. Of my class of 30–50 (?) maybe two or three stayed the extra year (and paid the extra money!!!).

The plus side for the school is that they get more money for the fifth year (significant!). The plus side for the student is that they actually graduate with two Bachelors degrees… a BFA and a BGD. Some employers might be impressed by that I guess. It also gives them more time to study and do a (second, probably…) long, self-initiated project together with a professor.

I don’t see what this 3-year silliness is about. It seems that only the Brits love their 3-year BAs, right? What is wrong with a 4-year BA (like the Americans do it :-)

Regarding abroad, what students should consider more is doing their BA is one country and an MA in another. One semester abroad is really not enough… you barely get your feet wet. An EU-wide BA/MA system makes this possible. The next step is language. Holland is a great example. So many Dutch MAs seem to be taught 100% in English. Germany just doesn’t grasp the importance of this. But at the same time, politicians bemoan that Germany is “only” the world’s 3rd most popular international student destination. How can Germany catch up on the UK (#2)? Well, it is going to be with English, but Germany is also going to need to create damn good MA programs, which it does not have in Design yet.
The UK design schools have 20 years experience running (international) MA programs. Some of them are very good.

I am sorry about the course descriptions. These are always full of shit. If a student ever actually reads their way through one of them, they probably do not understand a wiff of

Indra Kupferschmid am 10. Juli um 13:00
What’s the use of different degrees again? Never heard of BGD (what does it stand for?). Sound like an archaic national degree :)) like oldschool diploma = having more time, self-initiative, impressing employers …
The original idea was, that this is covered by the MA, wasn’t it? 3yBA + 2yMA or 4yBA + 1yMA (we’ll do the latter, 3-years’s just stupid).

language: I consider it very important to NOT offer all courses in English, cause learning a foreign language belongs to the experience of going abroad (dutch is an exotic exception). Design schools fighted against BA/MA for a long time, that’s why there’re hardly any MAprogs yet. will/has to change soon, but the german idea is, that only 10% will add a MA. So, won’t have many “seats” here.

Course description: That’s the point – nobody reads, nobody understands them. I hoped to be able to change that …

Dan Reynolds am 10. Juli um 13:33
American schools like to have as many kinds of Bachelors Degrees as possible. They are all basically viewed as the same by each other and by the market. All Bachelors Degrees are not “BAs”. A BA is a Bachelor of Arts, which is often any subject that is not scientific or technical (those students get a BS, or a Bachelor of Science degree). Art schools tend to require that their students get more credits to graduate than is normally the case for a BA, so they award BFAs (Bachelor of Fine Arts). This is not a significant difference. A BGD is a Bachelor of Graphic Design, which is a made up marketing thing. It is a BFA with even more course requirements. But it in no way is a substitute for a Masters Degree (MA, MS, MFA, or otherwise).

American universities are businesses. All businesses are infected by marketing speak. But German schools adopting Bachelor/Master degrees will not turn them into businesses, too. Whether that happens is a totally separate question.

Language… I am of two minds on this, because I spent a lot of time, effort (and also money…) to learn German well enough to pass certain exams and properly enroll at the HfG, and of course I am proud of that and think that things like this are beneficially.
But, German (as much as I love it and as beautiful as it is… and it is beautiful!) is not a world language. It would have/might have been, but for certain turns of history. French, English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, maybe someday Hindi (but I doubt it somehow) are world languages. I do not even think that Japanese, which probably has about as many speakers as German, is a world language. Dutch is most definitely not a world language.

BA/MA: Of course every school that offers BAs should also offer MAs. MAs are more serious, prestigious, and in many fields (like science) simply more important. MA students are also more fun to teach, and also more dedicated learners. For a school, going from a Diplom to just offering BAs is not what the whole reform movement is about at all. In fact, I have a feeling that there is some degree of stubbornness… i.e., what we really wanted was taken away from us, so we are going to settle for a punishingly less good system.

On the flip side, having less seats at home, while a terrible idea, might have the silver lining of sending more students abroad, which would not be such a terrible thing. Hopefully, the German economy develops to the point where they will want to come abc to work here, though :-D

Indra Kupferschmid am 10. Juli um 14:06
But with the same curricula and teaching language all over the world some day won’t there be a great cultural diversity got lost? Maybe it’s a must on specialized MAs but why punish 90% of the german students with english? Our biggest foreign group’s from China of course and it is immensely hard for them to keep up with discussions, but should we offer courses in chinese instead (they don’t speak english either)?

Master-discussion: German FH (applied sciences) vs. Universities and Art Academies (like us) still argue, who and under which conditions is “allowed” to offer MAs since FHs always had shorter programs (3y) and less research/theory (and of course nobody wants to offer a simple consecutive MA but instead go for some exotic specialisation, stupid …)

Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 15:37
One more benefit that I see to the Bachelor/Master thing is changeability. Good designes come from many diverse backgrounds. Someone with a BS in computer science, for instance (with the right portfolio, work experience, interests, and drive) could be admitted to an MA in design. This happens a lot, and can be kind of good. The same would be true of an art school BA who decides that maybe journalism is right for him or her. No need to repeat the basic college years… just go get into a journalism MA
Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 16:01
You’re right, that I thought the idea and advantage as well, but I see a lack of consecutive – or maybe even “introductory” – MA programs for that case. How should a computer scientist catch up in an MA typedesign or book typografie or exibition design without some foundational knowledge? We had the instance last week of an interior designer who was looking for a MA in communication design and ended up in a course more focussed on design strategy and management. Now she applied for our BA, what I find a pity couse she already has good knowledge on form, colour, proportions, whatever.
Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 16:21
We designers sometime place a little more value on our foundational experiences than we should. The most important part of education is learning how to learn, which is different from being trained for a specific career. Someone who has done well on a computer science has learned many things… hopefully a lot of problem solving. So if he wants to do an MA in type design, he has a problem to solve ;-) Before he can realistically begin the course, he’s probably going to have to spend a lot of time (but not several years) learning about how text works, about document hierarchy, and maybe about bezier tools. Maybe this can be achieved through a combination of networking, workshops, conferences, or even just the right internship. But on his/her MA course, he will bring his different background to the table, which is good. It can enrich the course in its own ways.
Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 16:54
sure, that is why I think there should be more offers for »Quereinsteiger« – a 2–3 semester program for Journalists, Artists, Scientist, Teachers whatever. This is mostly covered by private schools at the moment (which make a lot of money from it!)
No students here? would love to here their opinion about going abroad, language and BA
Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 17:30
Do students still even have opinions?
Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 18:03
oh je, that would be another thread, but apart from study-fees I hardly find them opposed to anything. they swallow kind of every worm
Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 20:42
Just had a discussion during the Bavette over my idea of a “general” Master:
It seems there can’t ever be something like that. What would they learn “more advanced” than BA students? that is why all these exotic programs are around – open for all kind of diciplines. In case of our interior designer there probably only remains a BA course with request to be placed into a higher semester.
Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 21:11
No general masters degree? Just about all US masters programs in design are general. Sure in the second year, you pick a very specific topic for your thesis, but specialized masters programs like the MA type design that I did in Reading are the exception, not the rule. Although, more and more of these things are popping up everywhere it seems.
What do general MA students learn that is more advanced than BA students? BA students have to show that they are capable of doing the work and the thinking of design. But masters develop their own long term projects, understand research, and come up with their own ideas. They don”t just recycle. This level of quality in not always expected on a BA course.
You should email Gerry Leonidas ;-) He seems to think about these questions 24/7
As for our “Quereinsteiger” student, let us look at some more of his stateside options…
At RISD, the MFA in Graphic Design in 2 years. But if you did not study art or design as an undergraduate, then you can add on a “year 0”, making the course three years instead of 2. In this pre-year, you take a smattering of the undergraduate graphic design classes to help get you up to speed. RISD, like all other top US design schools, is very selective. So I am sure that when they take a non-designer, it is someone that they believe can handle this transition.
Or look at Yale. Their 2-ear MFA takes lots of non-traditional designers. Somehow it all seems to work. And Yale doesn”t even offer a Bachelor’s course in Graphic Design, only a Masters. The same is true of Cranbrook, although Cranbrook is a tiny art school, and Yale is probably the second-richest University in the world.
Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 21:30
thanks Dan!
that is the point (was not as clear about that) BUT: by this definition we have Master-like study altogether with the “Projektstudium”. So maybe my suggestion of “integrating” MA students into normal BA curriculum can maybe work out.
Gerry: good idea. I feel like 20/6 at least at the moment. is the edu-board of AtypI still alive?
USA MAs: very insightful, especially the year 0-thing. we originally thought the MA two semester, which I find far to short and voted for three. But I am amazed, that US schools with 4y-BAs also offer 2y-MAs. That makes 6 years altogether! more than any diploma-program (they want to cut it to 5 in a whole in Germany)
Ha – good to have you on board. now I have a whole bunch fresh arguments for wednesday meeting ))
Dan ReynoldsI 10. Juli um 21:52
believe that the ATypI education group is still going, at least on paper. But I am not part of it. At the last ATypI conference, I was still an MA student ;-)
And then we went to bed and forgot about the whole thing ))

Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 15:37
One more benefit that I see to the Bachelor/Master thing is changeability. Good designes come from many diverse backgrounds. Someone with a BS in computer science, for instance (with the right portfolio, work experience, interests, and drive) could be admitted to an MA in design. This happens a lot, and can be kind of good. The same would be true of an art school BA who decides that maybe journalism is right for him or her. No need to repeat the basic college years… just go get into a journalism MA

Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 16:01
You’re right, that I thought the idea and advantage as well, but I see a lack of consecutive – or maybe even “introductory” – MA programs for that case. How should a computer scientist catch up in an MA typedesign or book typografie or exibition design without some foundational knowledge? We had the instance last week of an interior designer who was looking for a MA in communication design and ended up in a course more focussed on design strategy and management. Now she applied for our BA, what I find a pity couse she already has good knowledge on form, colour, proportions, whatever.

Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 16:21
We designers sometime place a little more value on our foundational experiences than we should. The most important part of education is learning how to learn, which is different from being trained for a specific career. Someone who has done well on a computer science has learned many things… hopefully a lot of problem solving. So if he wants to do an MA in type design, he has a problem to solve ;-) Before he can realistically begin the course, he’s probably going to have to spend a lot of time (but not several years) learning about how text works, about document hierarchy, and maybe about bezier tools. Maybe this can be achieved through a combination of networking, workshops, conferences, or even just the right internship. But on his/her MA course, he will bring his different background to the table, which is good. It can enrich the course in its own ways.

Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 16:54
sure, that is why I think there should be more offers for »Quereinsteiger« – a 2–3 semester program for Journalists, Artists, Scientist, Teachers whatever. This is mostly covered by private schools at the moment (which make a lot of money from it!).

No students here? would love to here their opinion about going abroad, language and BA

Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 17:30
Do students still even have opinions?

Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 18:03
oh je, that would be another thread, but apart from study-fees I hardly find them opposed to anything. they swallow kind of every worm

Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 20:42
Just had a discussion during the Bavette over my idea of a “general” Master:
It seems there can’t ever be something like that. What would they learn “more advanced” than BA students? that is why all these exotic programs are around – open for all kind of diciplines. In case of our interior designer there probably only remains a BA course with request to be placed into a higher semester.

Dan Reynolds 10. Juli um 21:11
No general masters degree? Just about all US masters programs in design are general. Sure in the second year, you pick a very specific topic for your thesis, but specialized masters programs like the MA type design that I did in Reading are the exception, not the rule. Although, more and more of these things are popping up everywhere it seems.

What do general MA students learn that is more advanced than BA students? BA students have to show that they are capable of doing the work and the thinking of design. But masters develop their own long term projects, understand research, and come up with their own ideas. They don”t just recycle. This level of quality in not always expected on a BA course.

You should email Gerry Leonidas ;-) He seems to think about these questions 24/7

As for our “Quereinsteiger” student, let us look at some more of his stateside options…
At RISD, the MFA in Graphic Design in 2 years. But if you did not study art or design as an undergraduate, then you can add on a “year 0”, making the course three years instead of 2. In this pre-year, you take a smattering of the undergraduate graphic design classes to help get you up to speed. RISD, like all other top US design schools, is very selective. So I am sure that when they take a non-designer, it is someone that they believe can handle this transition.

Or look at Yale. Their 2-ear MFA takes lots of non-traditional designers. Somehow it all seems to work. And Yale doesn”t even offer a Bachelor’s course in Graphic Design, only a Masters. The same is true of Cranbrook, although Cranbrook is a tiny art school, and Yale is probably the second-richest University in the world.

Indra Kupferschmid 10. Juli um 21:30
thanks Dan! that is the point (was not as clear about that) BUT: by this definition we have Master-like study altogether with the “Projektstudium”. So maybe my suggestion of “integrating” MA students into normal BA curriculum can maybe work out.

Gerry: good idea. I feel like 20/6 at least at the moment. is the edu-board of AtypI still alive?

USA MAs: very insightful, especially the year 0-thing. we originally thought the MA two semester, which I find far to short and voted for three. But I am amazed, that US schools with 4y-BAs also offer 2y-MAs. That makes 6 years altogether! more than any diploma-program (they want to cut it to 5 in a whole in Germany)
Ha – good to have you on board. now I have a whole bunch fresh arguments for wednesday meeting ))

Dan ReynoldsI 10. Juli um 21:52
I believe that the ATypI education group is still going, at least on paper. But I am not part of it. At the last ATypI conference, I was still an MA student ;-)


And then we went to bed and forgot about the whole thing …

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 14. January 2010 at 23:38 | Permalink

    hi indra

    lange nicht gesehen.

    a fascinating conversation. and one that is important. dank druck von unten, bildungsstreik und co, wird dieses 3 jahr geschichte etwas aufgeweicht. ich lehre kd in konstanz, und wir empfehlen unsere studenten etwas mehr zeit zu nehmen. bringt auch organisatorische aspekte. in konstanz war der umstellung schon im gange und eine etwas schlappe master installiert, nach dem motto mehr ist mehr. ich denke die interessanten master sind die programme die mehr bieten als nur etwas mehr. quereinsteiger gewünscht, aber eben mit eine nullrunde (probieren wir aus). ich profitiere sehr von meiner us-herrkunft in diesen dingen, dieses verständnis muss langsam in der deutschen kultur wachsen.

    anyway drop me a line, or email.

  2. Posted 14. January 2010 at 23:39 | Permalink

    ps
    der master in konstanz ist nun überarbeitet und fängt langsam an interessant zu werden.

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