The Bologna Process, formally initiated in 1999, has inspired a series of substantial albeit uneven reforms in the European higher education landscape, leading to the emergence of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) that stretches from western Portugal to easternmost Russia. Reforms within the EHEA, and European Commission-funded linkages schemes with various regions (including Asia and Africa) in the world, have been generating considerable interest in various quarters.
The formalization of an external dimension to the Bologna Process was spurred on, in May 2005, when the Bergen Communiqué included the following statement:
The European Higher Education Area must be open and should be attractive to other parts of the world. Our contribution to achieving education for all should be based on the principle of sustainable development and be in accordance with the ongoing international work on developing guidelines for quality provision of crossborder higher education. We reiterate that in international academic cooperation, academic values should prevail.
We see the European Higher Education Area as a partner of higher education systems in other regions of the world, stimulating balanced student and staff exchange and cooperation between higher education institutions. We underline the importance of intercultural understanding and respect. We look forward to enhancing the understanding of the Bologna Process in other continents by sharing our experiences of reform processes with neighbouring regions. We stress the need for dialogue on issues of mutual interest. We see the need to identify partner regions and intensify the exchange of ideas and experiences with those regions.
The Bergen Communiqué led to the development of a more formal 2007 strategy document titled Looking Out: The Bologna Process in Global Setting: On the External Dimension of the Bologna Process, from which the above quote is taken.
It is in such a context that the World Education Services (WES), “North America’s leading resource of information and insight on international education and credentials” (their words), has developed brief albeit insightful summaries of the ripple effects (or “echoes” to use Pavel Zgaga’s words) in Africa and the Asia-Pacific that are being generated by Bologna-process inspired reforms.
In their most recent September 2007 newsletter Nick Clark focuses in on the Asia-Pacific region. Clark is interested in identifying if there is “any evidence that Bologna might be providing impetus or inspiration” for intra-regional and intra-national reforms in select countries”. Underlying this analysis, of course, is a concern in the United States that the emerging EHEA, with a streamlined degree structure, and increasing use of English as a language of instruction, will inspire countries in the Asia-Pacific to refashion their higher education systems so they are in closer alignment with the EHEA model.
These are early days, of course, to be reaching conclusions. But Clark notes:
While none of the initiatives outlined above point directly to a Bologna-style regional higher-education architecture, there are signs that efforts are underway for a move in that direction, spearheaded largely at this point by an Australian education system eager to maintain its dominant position in the Asia-Pacific higher education market. As stated by Australian education minister, Julie Bishop, at the Australian National Seminar on the Bologna Process in September 2006:
“So, while the greater Asia-Pacific region will set its own goals and frameworks, Bologna (and the Copenhagen Process in the area of vocational and technical education), provide pointers for greater collaboration in the region, for the benefit of the region. In recognition of this, the Senior Officials’ Working Group will remain alert to the future possibilities for compatibility with initiatives such as Bologna.
“The European vision also introduces some urgency for this region to develop its own approach to collaboration and facilitation of student and academic mobility. Without this development, we could face a situation where Europe eventually has a highly integrated education system, while Asia-Pacific has, by comparison, very limited recognition, credit transfer, and fewer opportunities for people of the region to enjoy the benefits of being part of a globally-connected workforce.”
Minister Bishop has a point. But it is also worth noting that Australia, one of the creators of the regional construct “Asia-Pacific” (and with 11% of the international student market and China the largest contributor by far), is once again trying to speak on behalf of an incredibly heterogeneous and expansive geographical formation. Why? Australia is now structurally dependent upon Asia to effectively fund (via overseas fees) a large proportion of their higher education system (as the OECD’s recent indicators report noted). Thus if Asian students were to shift the majority focus of their mobility destinations to Europe, and away from Australia – or indeed Singapore, Malaysia and China were to become a major regional players in their own right as they currently have 2%, 2% and 7% of the global market currently and are ambitious to expand that – the Australian higher education system would be in danger of collapsing, so dependent is it now on Asian students.
WES is, of course, monitoring Bologna from the North American perspective, with concern about the maneuvering underway in Europe and Australasia for Asian brains (aka skilled workers) that North American universities, industries, and select regions seek.
The scramble is clearly underway.