Students denounce ‘à la carte’ implementation of Bologna process

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European governments are only implementing the higher education reforms that fit their national agenda, according to student unions. They urge implementation of commitments including the social dimension of the Bologna process, to create a European Area of Higher Education by 2010. 

“Things are not always as rosy as they seem. The Trends Report of EUA and the Student Survey will confirm that progress has been made, but will also point to weaknesses in the implementation of Bologna reforms. Hard work is still ahead of us if we want these reforms to be real and complete in everyday university life,” said Education Commissioner Ján Figel’ in his opening address in the 5th Bologna ministerial conference, which took place in London on 17-18 May 2007. 

The conference saw the launch of the Bologna stocktaking Report 2007, which details progress made since 1999. While the report found that “there has been good progress on specific action lines and indicators”, it reminds that is not enough to look at these in isolation because all aspects of the Bologna Process are interdependent. In particular, the report urges all participating countries to use learning outcomes as a basis for their national qualifications frameworks and systems for credit transfer and accumulation.

The ministers issued a Communiqué reviewing progress on the different Bologna process action lines (mobility; degree structure; recognition of qualifications; qualifications frameworks; lifelong learning; quality assurance; doctoral studies; social dimension; EHEA in a global context) and setting priorities for 2008-2009.

With the Communiqué, the education ministers also 

  • set the ground for the establishment of a Register of European Quality Assurance Agencies, [a public register of agencies reviewing quality of eduaction in higher education institutions] to enhance confidence in European higher education and to facilitate the mutual recognition of quality assurance
  • adopt a strategy for the external dimension of the Bologna process (European Higher Education Area in a Global Setting), to improve information on, and to promote the attractiveness and competitiveness of the EHEA.

Education Commissioner Ján Figel’ urged the need for more action to modernise higher education in Europe. "Governments should give institutions more autonomy. Universities should modernise the content of their curricula, create virtual campuses, reform their governance and professionalise their management of human resources, investment and administrative procedures, diversify their funding and open up to new types of learners, business and society at large," he said.

The National Unions of Students (ESIB) published, ahead of the ministerial conference a study entitled Bologna With Student Eyes. The report analyses how the commitments made in the Bologna Process are implemented in practice at national level. It accuses European governments of "picking those commitments which fit their national agenda, and neglecting others at the same time". For example, "only few take really care about the social situation of students in their country, although the Social Dimension has been marked as a priority of the Bologna Process for two years," said ESIB Chairperson Koen Geven warning that "this à la carte approach endangers Bologna's success".

The European University Association asked the education ministers for greater autonomy and increased funding for universities "in order to enable Europe to compete with the rest of the world". The EUA declaration entitled Europe’s Universities beyond 2010: Diversity with a common purpose urges the need for more autonomy as "more autonomy would give universities more flexibility to adapt to our changing society and would boost university-business knowledge transfer and attract more private funding for universities." 

"If we can't decide who to employ, and what to spend our money on, we are never going to be able to change," said says EUA secretary general Lesley Wilson.

"Raising the employability of graduates is a key issue for improving the functioning of European labour markets," states BusinessEurope. "The evolution towards process-oriented and interdisciplinary work organisation increasingly requires employees to be adaptable, to develop problem solving skills and to work in teams. Graduates’ employability thus has to become a key mission for universities and other higher education institutions. This has to be reflected to a greater extent in the design of study courses and become a main criterion of quality for future degrees." 

Alan Johnson the UK Secretary of State for Education and Skills highlighted the need to focus on the learning outcomes of students with regard recognition of qualifications gained in other countries. "How we compare courses across international boundaries is perhaps one of the most difficult issues facing us now. The single most important thing to an employer when they are looking to hire someone is not how long that individual has spent in any given higher education institution, but what he or she has learnt at the end of it, and whether they have the right skills to do the job. This must be what we focus on as we award credits for courses," he said.

The Bologna Process, launched in Bologna in June 1999, aims to establish a European Area of Higher Education (EHEA) by 2010. The objectives include higher education reform and the elimination of remaining barriers to the mobility of students and teachers.

The process is steered by bi-annual Bologna ministerial conferences, which take stock of the progress done on the way towards EHEA. The last conference took place in Bergen in 2005 (see EURACTIV 23 May 2005).

  • The next Bologna ministerial conference will take place in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve on 28-29 April 2009.

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