Higher education in Europe has changed over the last 15 years as a result of the Bologna Process, an agreement between governments to reform education legislation and harmonize the work of universities.
Now the 47 participating countries, along with other stakeholders, are starting a debate on the future of Bologna. Their conclusions will be considered in May next year at a ministerial conference in Yerevan (Armenia).
“This debate is long overdue,” said Michael Goebel, head of higher education policy at the Association of European Universities and an advisory member of the Bologna Process. “We feel that the process no longer has a strong visibility among our members, but also participation, as fewer ministers have attended recent ministerial meetings.”
The European Students Union, another advisory member, goes further. “It was clear that over the last few years, both interest in the Bologna Process and its implementation have remained,” said union chairwoman Elizabeth Gerke when the discussion began in August.
The Bologna Process began in 1999, when 29 countries agreed to harmonize higher education structures. The aim was to facilitate international cooperation and in particular to help students move across the continent. The main objectives included the creation of a common three-tier structure of bachelor, master and doctor; system of portable educational loans; recognition of study abroad; as well as quality assurance standards and guidelines.
By 2010, sufficient progress had been made for ministers to declare the creation of a European Higher Education Area. They also agreed to continue the Bologna Process until 2020. The current debate is a belated attempt to make some sense of this decision.
Some of the issues in the discussion paper that are now being circulated are fundamental. For example: does the original vision of the Bologna Process remain relevant and attractive? He also underlined the general feeling that the reform process was not yet complete, and asked whether governments should commit to implementing it again. Other issues reflect the need for a new vision and priorities to take into account the challenges currently facing European higher education.
The European Commission, a full member of the Bologna Process, believes that progress in the initial reforms has been uneven and has slowed. It cites shortcomings in how the three-cycle system was introduced, in the use of the credit system and in the recognition of degrees.
Then there are the problems that the Bologna Process did not notice. “So far, the impact of the economic and financial crisis on universities or their students, or other potential changes in higher education, such as the impact of new technologies, have not been systematically considered,” said an official in the education department. education and culture. Then there are issues of skills and employment, migration and demographic change. “To stay alive, Bologna must do the same in these matters as in Bologna’s initial reforms.”
The European Association of Universities will formulate its contribution to the debate in the coming months, but Goebbels expects the debate to crystallize around the need for flexible learning pathways, greater recognition of teaching and learning and enhancing the global dimension of the European Higher Education Area. “We have established this bachelor’s master’s scheme, but it probably requires a little refinement, a clearer understanding of the master’s cycle, further acceptance of the bachelor’s degree, and opportunities for lifelong learning,” he says.
Meanwhile, the interaction with the rest of the world was accidental. “We need to make it clear that, as the European Higher Education Area, we are interested in sharing and discussing not so much Bologna’s reforms as key issues that are crucial for countries and regions outside Europe,” Goebel said. . . “In many ways, they have the same or similar problems as us.”