European education ministers meeting at the Bergen summit urged universities to ensure that their PhD programmes are in tune with the job market. They also want a report on the core principles of PhD programmes.
European education ministers meeting at the Bergen summit on 19-20 May urged universities to ensure that their PhD programmes promote interdisciplinary training and the development of transferable skills, thus meeting the needs of the wider employment market. Ministers said they wanted more PhD students taking up research careers within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Currently the fear is that too many are being drawn away to the US.
They also undertook to ensure that higher education institutions have the necessary autonomy to implement the agreed reforms and recognised the need for sustainable funding of institutions. In this context they upheld the principle of public responsibility for higher education.
By the time of the London summit in 2007, ministers said they would be looking for progress in:
- implementation of the standards and guidelines for quality assurance as proposed in the European Association for Quality Assurance (ENQA) report;
- implementation of the national frameworks for qualifications;
- the awarding and recognition of joint degrees, including at the doctorate level;
- creating opportunities for flexible learning paths in higher education, including
procedures for the recognition of prior learning.
The idea behind the recognition of prior learning is to make it easier for students to move from one cycle to the next. Ministers agreed to work towards more recognition of non-formal and formal learning for access to, and as elements in, higher education programmes. Non-formal learning refers to structured learning outside an education or training system that does not lead to certification. Informal learning is unstructured, non-certified and results from daily life activities be they at the workplace, in the family or during leisure time.
Ministers adopted the overarching framework for qualifications in the EHEA, comprising three cycles (including, within national contexts, the possibility of intermediate qualifications), generic descriptors for each cycle based on learning outcomes and competences, and credit ranges in the first and second cycles.
“Up until now, courses set out which topics students are required to cover. The idea is for the generic descriptors to describe what skills the students will have learnt during their courses,” said Mr Per Nyborg, head of the Secretariat of the Bologna Follow-up Group. “The underlying purpose is to enable students to be more employable when they leave the world of academia.”
Ministers welcomed the principle of a European register of quality assurance agencies based on national review. The idea of a new committee to oversee the European Register for Quality Assurance Agencies is being considered. However the sticking point is that there is no supranational decision-making body in overall charge of the Bologna Process.
“Member states have the ultimate say on Bologna Process, which in reality are non-binding recommendations to the participating countries. So a new committee would have to be set up outside the Bologna Process,” said Mr Nyborg. “ENQA and the other organisations behind the proposal should look for legal advice on this issue.”
Mutual recognition of degrees
Ministers called on all national authorities and other stakeholders to recognise joint degrees awarded in two or more countries in the EHEA.