Bologna and Lisbon – two processes or one?

pernyborg.jpgEditors’ note: as mentioned in relation to the 27 January entry ‘Bologna meets Russia: a case of ‘identity crisis’ over Europe?’, we are initiating a new series in GlobalHigherEd on the Bologna Process reforms in European higher education. Today’s contribution has been kindly developed by Per Nyborg (pictured to the left). Per Nyborg, a mathematician, has been intimately involved in Bologna-related reforms. His former positions include Director General, Norwegian Ministry for Scientific and Cultural Affairs; Director, Royal Norwegian Research Council for Science and Technology; Secretary General, Norwegian Council for Higher Education; Chair, Council of Europe’s Committee for Higher Education and Research (2001-2003); and Head, Bologna Process Secretariat (2003-2005).


Since 1999, the Bologna Process has stimulated formidable changes in higher education systems in the steadily increasing number of participating countries. A common European framework has been developed, starting from the pre-Bologna Lisbon Recognition Convention. In Bologna, it was agreed that the degree system should be organised in two cycles, later on a third cycle was included and a common qualifications framework set up. European standards and guidelines for quality assurance have been developed. Cooperation between states, organisations and higher education institutions is blossoming. By the 2010 deadline, many of the goals set down by the Bologna Declaration will be reached. The main structural elements of a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) will be in place, set up by the voluntary cooperation of 46 countries [see the NAFSA-produced map below]. It will be up to each participating country and its minister responsible for higher education to continue the development of its higher education system according to the commonly agreed principles.

bolognamapnafsa.jpgEncouraged by the success of the Bologna Process, a sequence of bi-annual ministerial conferences have added new policy areas to the process; the social dimension, employability, and the Bologna Process in a global setting. These are areas where ministers of education have great interest, but alas, little influence. To a certain extent this also goes for one of the original goals of the Bologna Declaration: Mobility. It costs money, and there is no money in the Bologna Process as such. So, in these areas, developments have been slow, and what has been achieved on the European level has mostly been done by the European Commission.

The challenges meeting all Bologna countries and also the European Union when it comes to realising the social dimension and improving employability are formidable. Operational goals are yet not even set. If the EHEA shall have working relations with organisations in other regions, a proper organisation must be set up. One may ask if the Bologna Process is strong enough to embark on these tasks. In any case, when the Bologna Ministers meet again in Leuven next year, they will have to decide whether their pan-European process should end in 2010, having developed the common structure of the EHEA, or continue at least up to 2020 for the further development of their common policy areas. Then they also should clear up the relationship between the Bologna Process and specific European Union policies.

The Bologna Ministerial Conference was not a EU event and the Commission was not a formal participant. However, the European Union was not far away, as can be seen from the opening lines of the Bologna Declaration: The European process… has become an increasingly concrete and relevant reality for the Union and its citizens. When a Bologna Process Follow-up Group (BFUG) was established, the EU Presidency was asked to chair the group and the Commission became a member on equal terms with representative of participating countries.

The Commission’s participation has meant a lot to the Bologna Process. The EU mobility programmes certainly gave a European dimension to mobility, and as the Lisbon Strategy started to develop in 2000, higher education became an important element in the EU strategy to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

As the Bologna Process fitted nicely into the Lisbon Strategy, Commission activities related to Bologna increased – also to the benefit of the Bologna Process as such. However, the Lisbon Strategy has shifted the focus from cooperation in higher education to global competition. In the document From Bergen to London – The contribution of the European Commission to the Bologna Process (May 2007) it is said that

The European Commission aims to support Member States in their efforts to modernise higher education systems, in all their areas of activity making them more coherent, more flexible, and more responsive to the needs of society. Modernisation is needed in order to face the challenges of globalisation and to develop the skills and capacity of the European workforce to be innovative. Reforms should enable universities to play their role in the Europe of Knowledge and make a strong contribution to the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs.

This statement builds on a 2006 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, urging Member States to press on with the modernisation of Europe’s universities:

Universities will not become innovative and responsive to change unless they are given real autonomy and accountability. Member States should guide the university sector as a whole through a framework of general rules, policy objectives, funding mechanisms and incentives for education, research and innovation activities. In return for being freed from overregulation and micro-management, universities should accept full institutional accountability to society at large for their results.

What sort of policy objectives? Clearly those of the Lisbon Strategy. When this Communication was presented, commissioner Potočnik remarked that universities will need to adapt to the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy, just as other sectors of society and economy have to adapt. The discussion of the Communication in the EU system has lead to a Resolution on modernising universities for Europe’s competitiveness in a global knowledge economy from the EU Competitiveness Council (November 2007) .

This is of course very relevant to the European Union and its 27 member countries. It is not equally relevant to all the other participating countries in the Bologna Process. Some hope to join the European Union at a later stage, but for instance the largest Bologna country – Russia – cannot be seen in that position. However, as the Commission, also the Russian government may want to “modernise” the universities to improve Russia’s competitive advantage. University and student organisations being partners in the Bologna Process may not wish to be partners to the Lisbon Strategy; but they certainly want to continue a pan-European cooperation in higher education.

This may be extended to a global cooperation. In their 2005 Bergen Communiqué, the “Bologna” Ministers stated that:

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.

zgaga-cover.jpgIn their next meeting in London in 2007 they adopted a Strategy for the European Higher Education Area in a Global Setting. According to the strategy, there is a need for enhanced cooperation with non-EHEA countries in a spirit of partnership and solidarity, aiming at mutual benefit on all levels. This need for cooperation and partnership extends to all regions of the world, covering highly developed, emerging and developing countries alike.

However, there is also a global market for educational services where individual EHEA countries are active. The strategy does not mention the global market for higher education and the inherent competition. The strategy states that policies should be tailor-made for each region and take due account of relevant European Union policy. Seen from outside, the Lisbon strategy may more look like competition than cooperation. It was already present in the Bologna Declaration: We must in particular look at the objective of increasing the international competitiveness of the European system of higher education. If the Bologna Process shall continue, it would be better to separate its policies on external relations from the Lisbon strategy and also here focus on cooperation in higher education.

To clear up the relations between the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy, one might wish for a dialogue between the Commission and the BFUG. That, however, may not be so simple, as the EU Presidency would be the representative of BFUG. Nevertheless, it should be sorted out what tasks should be included in a continuation of the Bologna Process and what responsibilities should better be left to the EU system and the Commission to handle. There are elements in higher education policy where a strong organisation is necessary for obtaining results. In its ninth year, the Bologna Process has not even set up a proper organisation.

Assuming that the 46 “Bologna” countries wish to retain the ownership and take the responsibility for the European Higher Education Area after 2010, an adequate organisation should be established. Based on the principle of public responsibility for higher education, objectives, obligations of participating countries, and organisational structure might be expressed in a joint declaration to be signed as countries satisfy the requirements set down in the declaration. The organisation may be quite simple; with a General Assembly taking over from the BFUG, a Board elected by the General Assembly, and a small but permanent secretariat with a budget to support its activities.

Otherwise, the further process on European level will be in the hands of the Commission, as the agenda for development of higher education in Europe more and more is being set by the Commission in its efforts to realise the Lisbon Strategy. The Bologna Process should have a broader scope. It also has a broader membership than the European Union. There should be room for a continuing Bologna Process of cooperation in higher education.

Per Nyborg

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