by Abby Chau
Ministers from 46 participating countries met in Budapest and Vienna in March to discuss the Bologna Process and to tout the European Higher Education Area. When Bologna was established in 1999, goals were set to firmly launch the EHEA in 2010 in order to harmonise and improve higher educational standards and qualifications in participating countries. The result, they hope, will promulgate and support academic and student mobility, improve student employability, ensure quality teaching standards, and to make institutions accountable for maintaining acceptable benchmarks.
Bologna’s vision for 2010, according to the Budapest-Vienna Declaration, is an “internationally competitive and attractive European Higher Education Area where higher education institutions, supported by strongly committed staff, can fulfil their diverse missions in the knowledge society; and where students benefiting from mobility with smooth and fair recognition of their qualifications, can find the best suited educational pathways.”
This may sound like a tall order, particularly as there are so many countries involved in the initiative (Kazakhstan recently signed up.). And indeed immediately after the 10 year anniversary, major protests broke out in Europe against Bologna, as disgruntled students raged against what they saw as the machinery of bureaucracy. Socialist Labour Party writer Tilman Ruster proclaims that, “the Bologna process and its consequences have led to the most powerful student protests in a long time. Lecture rooms were occupied, roads and train stations blocked, mass demonstrations carried out and much more.”
According to Ruster, for many Bologna is seen as a bureaucratic process and students and academics were not given the chance to contribute to the dialogue and negotiations. Students see the standardization of curriculum as inflexible and a barrier to academic freedom. Furthermore, he says, Bologna is also widening the gap between the rich and poor because shorter degrees put more pressure on lower income students who are not able to work part time in order to subsidize their education.
German academic Dietrich Lemke says that the Process is a top-down initiative without the legal mandate to effect legislative change. He suggests that, “there was no discussion—neither in state parliaments nor within the individual universities—of whether these radical changes actually made any sense.” It is little wonder that students and academics are wary.
Ministers have acknowledged that protests are signaling dissatisfaction with the process and they will be looking to more effectively communicate with not only academics and students but also with the global community. If these issues are not addressed successfully, Bologna may start to resemble the Climate Change Conference in Denmark last winter, with initiatives and goals set for overarching change, without the legal or moral mandate to do so.