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Class Of 2012: Diploma Dilemma For Europe Grads

That's precisely what Nicholls found lacking in her fashion studies. "I really just wasn't given any opportunities," she said. "I was very disappointed and I think the (university) could and should have done so much more."

Data from the EU Commission show the disparity that exists between the EU and the United States in terms of spending on university education, one factor that has been identified as a cause of European universities' underperformance.

Total public and private spending on higher education in the European Union accounts for 1.3 percent of GDP, compared to 3.3 percent in the United States, according to EU figures cited in a 2008 report by the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank. On a per student basis, that translates to annual spending of euros 8,700 in the EU versus euros 36,500 in the US, Bruegel says.

Borrell, the French law student, saw the effects of this underfunding while in Vienna.

Her law school library shut as early as 4 p.m. some days, and was closed completely on weekends. "You can imagine what this means when exams are approaching and all of a sudden libraries are just literally stuffed with people," Borrell said.

In its report, Breugel recommended that the EU spend an extra 1 percent of GDP annual on higher education, and give universities more autonomy in budgets, hiring and faculty pay as a way of giving the additional spending "more bite."

Moira Koffi, another member of the Class of 2012, last month finished her diploma in corporate communications from the Sorbonne journalism school. Her experience provides an optimistic tale of what Europe's universities may be doing right.

"I'm very satisfied" with how her school, CELSA, prepared her for finding post-graduation employment. "There were courses to prepare you for interviews, and networking was a very important" part of the curriculum, Koffi said.

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