At its meeting of 21 March 2000 the Senate of the University of Heidelberg approved the institution of a new Master's course in physics at the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. It is designed in the first place for students from abroad who already have a Bachelor's degree and would like to complete their studies at the Faculty in Heidelberg. As Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik (vice-rector for international relations) underlined at the Senate meeting, the new course is designed to facilitate entry into the German university system and open up opportunities for subsequent postgraduate studies and doctorates. With internationalisation on the increase the new course is of major significance for the University of Heidelberg.
Admission to the course will depend on the students' academic achievements at their home universities and their showing in the international Graduate Requirement Examination (GRE) in physics and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). An equivalent knowledge of German (instead of English) would also qualify them for the course.
After an initial test of the candidate's physics knowledge by two professors from the Faculty, each Master's student will be given an individual study programme of obligatory classes he or she must attend. Performance in these classes will be graded. The oral exams should normally be taken after 18 months of study. Standards here are equivalent to a Diplom exam. The Master's degree also involves the presentation of a thesis embarked on after the orals and completed within a period of six months. For students going on to do a doctorate, the thesis will (normally) be a component in the dissertation.
For admission some knowledge of German is desirable but not obligatory. German can be learned parallel to the physics course itself. The final language exam can be acknowledged as a subsidiary subject in the Master's degree course. Supervision by personal tutors and special tutorials will be provided up to the oral exams.
There are no plans afoot to replace the existing Diplom course.
Diplom and Master's Degree in physics: a comparison
At Germany's universities the Diplom courses are all fairly similar but they differ considerably from Master's degree courses abroad. Heidelberg's Faculty of Physics and Astronomy is gearing its new course to the requirements typically made by renowned universities in Britain and America.
The existing Diplom course in physics divides into two parts, the basic Grundstudium (2 years) taking students up to their Vordiplom (first part finals) and the Hauptstudium or advanced course comprising two further years of study plus one year spent on the Diplom thesis. The Anglo-Saxon model is made up of three to five years undergraduate studies leading to a Bachelor's degree (professional qualification) and two years of graduate studies, usually in the form of lectures and classes. Not all universities require a Master's thesis, but where this is the case it normally takes less than a year to complete. Despite these organisational differences it can fairly be said that the level of knowledge acquired after a Master's course at good Anglo-American universities is comparable to the requirements of the Diplom exam at German universities. This is why the requirements for Heidelberg's new Master's degree correspond to those of a Diplom exam. There will however be differences in matters of detail.
Individual study programmes
Normally a student with a Bachelor's degree has more accredited knowledge to his name than his German counterpart after the Vordiplom. But establishing just how great that margin actually is can only be done individually. The Faculty cannot rely fully on the study programmes of students' home universities because they normally say little about the level of the classes attended. Hence the following procedure: after assessment of a student's knowledge by two Faculty professors and on the basis of his/her accredited performance so far, an individual study programme is compiled for each student, laying down which obligatory classes (practicals, lectures, seminars) they have to attend and perform satisfactorily in up to the final exams.
At present the obligatory classes of the advanced part of the Diplom course comprise two advanced practicals and course lectures in atomic and molecular physics, solid-state physics, nuclear and elementary particle physics and theoretical physics (electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics/statistics), plus one seminar (regular attendance and presentation of a paper), lectures in the student's special subject and work done for the subsidiary subject. The Diplom thesis takes a year and is normally embarked on after the four orals constituting the final Diplom examination.
The study programme for new the Master's course will contain at least one of the two advanced practicals, plus the seminar and the lectures in the special subject. The other attendance requirements will be limited to those not already covered in the preceding Bachelor course. Graded credits are required for all obligatory classes.
The Faculty plans to offer every Master's student a project practical of 3 months' duration with a Faculty research group. It is designed to take place mainly in the first semester break and requires full-time commitment from the students. Its aim is to act as a first introduction to scientific work proper. At the same time it will greatly facilitate the integration of foreign students at the Faculty.
The Master's thesis will take six months and will be completed after passing the orals. In terms of range and scope the thesis will match the requirements of the existing physics course for future physics teachers at secondary schools. As such it represents the necessary qualification for students going on to do a doctorate. For doctoral students the Master's thesis will be part of the doctoral dissertation.
Examinations and degree
Normally the orals for the Master's degree should be taken 18 months after the commencement of studies. They cover experimental physics, theoretical physics, a special subject (in physics) and a subsidiary subject. The subsidiary subject can take the form of proficiency in German acquired in the course of study.
The following six-month Master's thesis is part of the examination and must be submitted in written form. The student's grades in the orals and the Master's thesis make up the overall grade entered on the Master's degree certificate. The certificate will be in German and English. Successful completion of the Master's course qualifies the graduate to embark on doctoral studies.
Applicants from abroad will not normally have the requisite proficiency in German. As physics is a subject in which research and scientific communication largely takes place in English, the Faculty requires candidates to have an adequate working knowledge of English and to submit a TOEFL certificate with their application as evidence of this. As far as German is concerned, the Faculty requires students to acquire a good working knowledge of the language by the end of the first year of studies.
Some of the lectures and the attendant practical groups at the Faculty are already held/conducted in English, a fact which is welcomed by the students. With the inception of the new Master's course (always provided there are sufficient applicants) a number of the lectures in the advanced studies part of the course (which are identical for Diplom and Master's students) will be regularly held in English. The lecture courses recurring regularly every year will be held alternately (term-wise) in English and German, thus serving to improve the German students' linguistic proficiency and obviate a "ghetto" effect where the foreign students are concerned. The final orals for the Master's degree can be held in English if the candidate so wishes.
The group of students embarking on the Master's course in any one year are allocated to one or two personal tutors who look after them for a period of two years. Supervision and care of this kind (especially intensive in the first year) is necessary to ensure that students can complete their studies within the two-year limit. Tutor guidance will concentrate on helping students to organise their studies properly. Problems of a subject-related nature can be referred to lecturers teaching in the field in question, with whom the personal tutor will maintain contact. Each Master's student will also have a special contact person from the student body helping them with matters of social integration and the practical details of everyday student life.
Faculty contact person:
Prof. Dr. Jörg Hüfner,
Dekanat der Fakultät für Physik und Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg,
Albert-Überle Str. 11, D-69120 Heidelberg,
phone: 06221/549298, fax: 549347
Please address any inquiries about the Senate meeting to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317