Co-op Porgrams: Access to Higher Education and Beyond

In our Riva working group on access to higher education it was repeatedly hold, how important it is to see all the options you have in order to make a somewhat informed decision on your educational path. Vocational training? University? University of applied sciences? Which subject?

Once you know about your options, the next problem turns up: you don’t know what it is like to study the subject you have chosen until you have been studying it for certain time. Sneak peeks before you start studying might provide a remedy to some extent. You can for example visit some lectures in the physical or, if available, in the virtual world.

So now you made an informed decision, considering all the options and you found a subject you really like. Well, your time studying eventually ends and you start working. And all the questions rise again. What are the options? What does it feel like to work in a certain job? I recently talked to a friend who was a passionate law student and graduated with an excellent result. For two years now he struggles to find a legal job he likes.

It is important that during your studies you get insights into working in your field. When I did some research on the universities we are going to visit in the US, I found it quite common for American universities to offer co-op programs that provide structured job experience during your studies and you also get credits for that (some basic information and more resources on cooperative education here). I don’t know whether this concept exists at all within European universities. However, I don’t know about any such initiative at the university of Basel or at any Swiss law school. At my faculty, for instance, there are some hesitant moves on integrating the working world. But so far this steps inly go as far as showing you the options.

Thinking about it, this is amazing, since the Swiss vocational training, the apprenticeship, is based on cooperative education and there is widespread consensus that it is for the cooperative approach that the apprenticeship system is such a success. It seems that also this discussion leads to one of the overall Hi Ed questions: What is university for? What should our graduates be able to do? What should the know? What for do we educate?

I am curious to hear your experiences from co-op programs. Further, I ask my european colleagues whether I am wrong. Do we have co-op programs and I just don’t know about them?


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One response to “Co-op Porgrams: Access to Higher Education and Beyond

  1. Mareike

    I wouldn’t call it a “program”, but in German law schools, it is common that during your studies you have to do a total of at least three months of internships. Each internship has to last at least 4 weeks, so most law students intern in two to three different places throughout their studies. I really appreciated the glimpse of the practical world which I got during this time, even though – of course – it really is a very short time. And I must admit, I was really surprised to find out that Swiss students don’t have to do anything similar.
    The reason why I would not call it a “program”, is that at least in most cases, these internships are in no way integrated into your studies, i.e. there is no direct connection to the law school. As far as I know, some law schools have recently started to work on such an integration (one example for such a program can be found at the university of Cologne, for German info:, and I believe it would be great to strengthen this movement.
    Another special feature of German legal education is the system of “Referendariat”. This is basically a two-year phase of apprenticeship that most law graduates do. Technically you need to it (and pass the State exam at the end of it) in order to work in any “real” legal profession, such as lawyer, judge, prosecutor (interestingly: not to become a professor!). In reality, the vast majority of graduates do this training, even if they will “only” work as a corporate legal counsel or the like afterwards. During this phase you basically have to intern in many different places (such as courts, law firms, administration) and thus get a good overview of the work which is done there. Throughout the two-year phase you also have classes once a week which are meant to supplement this practical training with theoretical background.
    There has been (and still is) a lot of discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of this system. There also used to be a phase (in the 1970s) where some universities tried to incorporate more practical training into the studies rather than having this split system.
    As I myself have yet to go through this phase, I don’t quite dare to give my opinion on it. I might do so in a few years…

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