From the big picture to close ups: in Zagreb and Vienna the week the European Higher Education Area was launched

Editor’s note: this entry has been kindly contributed by Anne Corbett, Visiting Fellow, European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Anne Corbett, author of one other entry in GlobalHigherEd (‘A European view of the new Adelman report on the Bologna Process’ 16 April 2009) is also author of Universities and the Europe of Knowledge (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

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As noted in a recent GlobalHigherEd entry by Kris Olds (‘The Global Bologna Policy Forum: a forum for the emerging global higher education and research space?‘ 13 March 2010), the development of the Bologna Policy Forum brings the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) firmly into the international relations domain. But I think it is instructive to know about the politics too, as a minimum to learn how the Forum idea emerged, and how Kazakhstan became the 47th Bologna member (see below); ideally to have a better understanding of what makes European universities tick.

Helped by some fortuitous travel in the Spring of 2010, herewith my snapshots of the recent events in and around the celebrations for the Bologna decade and the second meeting of the Bologna Policy Forum.

On assessing the Bologna decade: First stop Zagreb

When higher education ministers were packing their bags for Budapest and Vienna, I was at a conference at the University of Zagreb, along with Bologna’s most articulate philosopher, Pavel Zgaga (and occasional GlobalHigherEd contributor – see ‘Bologna: beyond 2010 and over the Ocean – but where to? On new Bologna reports and C. Adelman’s last essay‘, 11 May 2009). Further details on the conference (UNESCO Chair Round Table: “Processing the Bologna Process: Current Losses and Future Gains”, 5-6 March 2010) are available here.

At the conference, a former president of the Austrian rectors’ organisation who was a Bologna player in the early days, expressed astonishment at the progress towards a European higher education area over the ten years. ‘Whenever three or four rectors are gathered together, let alone rectors’ organisations, we sign a declaration. We don’t necessarily expect to hear more of it.’

To cue, a Croatian professor with a big public reputation explained why so many policy initiatives in his experience are doomed. ‘We have lived under Moscow, Belgrade, Zagreb and now we have to live under Brussels. We know about sabotaging government initiatives’. He hoped that ‘this new policy for the management of knowledge’ which ‘infantilised’ true scholars would be ignored.

One plus one is never two in the light (Picasso)

So what does engagement with Bologna, rather than sabotage, look like? Recognising the challenge over recent months, some academics at the University of Zagreb decided to try and confront the grumblings. They formed a group which ranged from researcher to vice-rector level, working with the UNESCO Chair for Governance and Management of Higher Education, Pavel Gregorić (pictured to the right), who has a PhD from Oxford. They had the support of the rector, Aleksa Bjeliš.

The result: two days of discussions in Spring 2010 bringing together academics concerned with evidence of change as well as the arguments; politicians who had initiated Croatia’s Bologna law of 2002 and its subsequent amendments; some of the relevant officials; and a few of us foreigners.

Zagreb, Croatia’s largest and most scientifically productive university, has seen some painful confrontations in the past. Founded by the Jesuits in 1669, it was a player in the 18th century conversion to the secular and scientific values when Maria Theresa, Empress of Austro-Hungary broke with the Jesuits in the 18th century, and her despotic son, Emperor Joseph II went to promote the Enlightenment. In 2009 it was out-sitting sitting-in students who believe ‘Education is not for Sale’ – widely written  as ‘$A£€’. And in between it has faced such traumatic events as the break-up of Yugoslavia and (re-) establishing a nation.

Bologna confrontations in this conference were, however, of the fruitful kind. All recognised that they were engaged in a process which takes them into an EHEA. The questions were how and what they could do to shape outcomes. Some of the evidence was positive. Within the university, drop out rates have fallen significantly where newly structured courses have been introduced, and there appears to be benefits from a greater concentration on teaching, taking some quality-oriented thinking from Bologna. They made it sound like a demonstration of Cliff Adelman’s concept of an ‘accountability loop’ which emerges from a linkage of course reconstruction, quality assurance and credits (see my entry ‘A European view of the new Adelman report on the Bologna Process‘).

In another register, a music professor showed a film of students who were in no way selected musical geniuses, and how they had been ‘metamorphosed’ by the experience of preparing an opera. It was he who gave the wonderful quote from Picasso on the potentially creative nature of educational experience that ‘one plus one is never two in the light’.

But there are difficulties associated with mobility and recognition of foreign studies by universities, and scepticism among employers about new degrees.

Some of the academics in the audience blamed the Croatian government’s interpretation of Bologna, punning on the local word ‘bolonja’ which, linked to spaghetti, is junk food.

Under the Croatian law, the University’s Faculty of Law, which is respected across Europe by academic lawyers and political scientists, cannot establish a graduate school in the political sciences. Faculty and research candidates with masters’ degrees from Columbia and LSE, are turned away unless they do supplementary studies, to stretch the masters’ process to two years. The holder of a Yale doctorate avoided trouble when she applied for her post by producing a supplementary and longer thesis in Croatian.

But the politicians and some academics have their complaints too. Too many academics are not being responsible about making the new three-year bachelors degree work; they stay wedded to the long five-year structure.

These would, however, seem to be problems with solutions, given some time, some goodwill, more European exchange of ideas, and factors such as the demographic downtown, that will surely have universities begging for students, be they lifelong learners or foreign students.  What was impressive about this conference was the degree of apparent openness with which these issues were aired, and the evident interdisciplinary, intergenerational mix. It surely could not have happened without the existence of Bologna, or even bolonja.

Die Wissenschaft und ihre Lehre ist frei

Next stop Vienna. Though I have the necessary plastic card I’m not here to dress up in a ballgown to swing through the Imperial Palace, possibly alongside EHEA ministers. I’ve come in part to do some work with Elsa Hackl, a colleague in political science, and author of a pioneering study of how Bologna was born.

After the calm around the Zagreb rectorate, the shabby 1970s political science building of the University of Vienna exudes political buzz. Free coffee is on offer to those who will demonstrate against neo-liberalism. They need to shout ‘Bologna burns’ at ministers, who will be driven past in buses heavily protected by police escorts and helicopter surveillance. Next to coffee vending machines are those ‘spag.bol.’ references in English: ‘Bologna is Junk Food’.

In all the bustle, you might be forgiven for not seeing the brass inscription on the staircase with that great Germanic statement of academic freedom, Die Wissenschaft und ihre Lehre ist freiScience and its teaching are free. That comes from the Austrian constitution of 1867, alongside the constitutional guarantees of religious toleration and the right of all citizens to hold public office. It’s their birthright. So it’s unsurprising that these days ‘free’ applies to cash as well as to conscience and academic freedom. You have to salute the intellectual creativity of protestors in Austria in some universities where variable fees are being discussed of up to 30 000 euros p.a. in coming up with the slogan: ‘We want rich parents for everyone’.

We want rich parents for everyone

Next day by clean and uncrowded U-bahn and bus for the European Student Union (ESU) Summit. The venue provided by the Austrian government is well away from the hectic city centre. Not, I think, that there was much danger of these ESU students joining any wild or unelected crowd.

The ESU Executive, currently led by Ligia Deca (pictured to the left) from Romania, has a reputation for producing the knowledgeable and sophisticated student politicians who are the generation who will make the European Higher Education Area a bureaucratic reality. There are already a number of ESU alumni well placed as officials in national ministries, including at least one director general of higher education. Others have passed through the Council of Europe. Several are on the way to producing good PhDs on higher education in Europe so maybe they are among future philosophers of education. Difficult to imagine they will sink into invisibility.

This year these elected members have had to negotiate between their potentially conflicting positions as key policy players with the Bologna Follow-up Group, and as representatives of national unions. The question has become more acute after weeks in which student protesters in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Croatia showed some signs of coalescing on criticisms of university working conditions, and national unions themselves have been wavering between turning the other way, and support. The considerable ESU achievement was to dampen down a celebratory mood within the arcane structures of Bologna, and to have ministers say in the Vienna Declaration:

Recent protests in some countries partly directed against developments and measures not related to the Bologna Process have reminded is that some of the Bologna aims and reforms have not been properly implemented and explained. We acknowledge and will listen to the critical voices raised among staffs and students, We note that adjustments and further work, involving staff and students are necessary at European, national, and especially institutional levels to achieve the EHEA as we now envisage it.

I’m speaking on a panel at this ESU meeting with Barbara Weitgruber (pictured to the right), Senior Adviser on International Relations in Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung (Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research). She has been an influential figure in the Bologna Process over the whole decade, not least for chairing the working group which produced the Bologna policy forum idea in 2007. Those who have worked with her say her attention to detail has been remarkable in keeping the show on the road.

But maybe what makes her special is that she is a doughty exploiter of the geography which has made Vienna – rather than London or Paris – a natural centre for Bologna.  Shades of The Third Man and the Austrian ability to live in a very complex world: Austria, and Weitgruber in particular, appear to have been favoured interlocutors with many of the small Bologna states, especially the newer entrants to the Process.  They often complain about being shut out or misunderstood by the EU ‘bigs’.

Being proud of the European tradition

My last appointment is back at the University of Vienna. This time I see the university in all its Austro-Hungarian grandeur, with the grandest rooms of all set aside for the European University Association (EUA) to present Trends VI. This is the latest and most ambitious of the surveys the EUA and its predecessor have undertaken since 1999 on how Bologna is perceived at institution level. For the first time the EUA is able to include Russia and Serbia in its site visits.

The proceedings are opened by Georg Winckler (pictured to the right), Rector of the University of Vienna and president of the EUA from 2005-2009. Winckler has been portrayed in an academic trade union postcard (as pictured below and to the left) as Louis XIV with the inscription L’Université c’est moi’. But as I’ve noted before, Winckler has an impressive ability to project a long-term vision of the European University [‘Six to be reckoned with at the Bologna conference‘, Guardian, 21 April 2009] and to make Europeans proud of their university tradition.  He is able to synthesise the Humboldtian vision of the research base of the university, the American conception of post-doctoral research as a resource to be nurtured, and the European Commission rhetoric of innovation, opportunity and autonomy, with the condition it is counter-balanced by the Bologna conception of intergovernmental and stakeholder governance.

Here he and Eric Froment, his predecessor as EUA president (2001-2005), do a double act on the dynamics of a European knowledge space.   Mobility remains a priority, especially between degrees (vertical mobility). Taking Commission figures they say that at present 97% of European PhDs have not been employed outside their PhD country, not a recipe for innovative thought. There needs to be closer cooperation between the EHEA and the European Research and Innovation Area. Winckler is concerned about employability. Few attempts are being made to sharpen the profile of the bachelor degree. Froment takes a more cultural stand. The EHEA needs to be recognisably European. If he is saying that Bologna is part of a package, which implies some solidarity, and not a set of tools to enhance higher education global trading, he may have some attentive listeners.

The Trends report itself deserves a serious analysis for which there is not space here. I simply comment that its optimistic conclusions should remind us that these are the views of university leadership. The finding that almost 60 per cent of respondents think Bologna has been ‘very positive’, and 77 per cent say ‘all departments’ have reconsidered curricula, are not necessarily the views of academics at large. Those willing to struggle with teaching and learning issues à la Zagreb too often find the going is tough, especially when resources for extra work are lacking.

But the big message that the Trends survey, and my trip to Zagreb and Vienna convey is that over the Bologna decade, very different local interpretations about what really matters do co-exist with a common vocabulary on European higher education objectives. However since there is a vast diversity of ways in which the Bologna reform is being implemented in different countries, different universities and different departments within the same university, how issues pan out depends on particular dynamics. Success requires strong political commitment within each and every signatory country (see ‘My, how you’ve grown‘, Times Higher Education, 11 March 2010 for a fuller argument).

From a distance what’s happening might seem typically European in its lack of clarity. But the rich mix of cultures, languages and national experience within Europe are generating an intellectual energy which runs counter to much of the doom-mongering about the poor state of European universities outside those at the top of the Shanghai Jiao Tong league, among economists, in particular.

As to the questions I left unanswered above: The Bologna Policy Forum, in addition to its known characteristics, is a neat way of avoiding the definition of Europe’s boundaries. In a first step, in face of persistent requests from Israel and others to join, the Bologna Process relied on the Council of Europe definition of signatories to its Cultural Convention to exclude those outside the continent. At a second stage, the organisers saw that there was not only a demand for membership, but even more a demand for dialogue from others, including the US and Australia and yes, including Ethiopia, so much the better. Hence the Forum.

And how has Kazakhstan got in under the wire?  I can report that at the Magna Charta ceremonies in 2009, ministers and rectors were present with a map showing that they have more landmass than Turkey, long-time Bologna member on the continent of Europe, as calculated west of a certain longitude. I am not quite sure which, and by my map the claim would probably make Iran eligible too.  Who knows? Bologna continues to serve up surprises.

Anne Corbett

Bologna: beyond 2010 and over the Ocean – but where to? On new Bologna reports and C. Adelman’s last essay

PavelZgagaEditor’s note: this guest entry is by Pavel Zgaga, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Pavel began his academic career at the University of Ljubljana in 1978. In 1990-92 and 2001-2004 he was a member of the University Senate; in 2001-2004 he was Dean of the Faculty of Education. He is Director of the Centre for Education Policy Studies, a R&D institute of the University of Ljubljana established in 2000. In the 1990s, in the period after political changes in Slovenia, he was engaged for several years in the Slovenian Government. In 1992-1999 he was State Secretary for Higher Education. In 1999-2000 he was Minister of Education and Sports. He was also the head of the working group “Education, Training and Youth” in the negotiation process for Slovenian accession to the EU (1998-1999). On behalf of Slovenia, he signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention (April 1997) and the Bologna Declaration (June 1999). After his return to university he has remained closely connected to the Bologna process.  In the period 2002 – 2003 he was the general rapporteur of the Bologna Follow-up Group (Berlin Report) while in the period June 2004 – June 2005 he was a member of the Board of the Bologna Follow-up Group. He also the author of Looking out: The Bologna Process in a Global Setting (2006) and Higher Education in Transition: Reconsiderations on Higher Education in Europe at the Turn of the Millenium (2007).

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The end of April was again very important for the emerging European Higher Education Area (EHEA): the sixth ministerial conference of the 46 Bologna countries was held in Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Yet, we are not going to discuss its outcomes (though we will briefly discuss the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué later), but the “background” lead-up to the conference. In this context, April was not only an important but also a productive month: productive in terms of reports, surveys and analyses on the Bologna Process and higher education in Europe in general which really deserve some attention. Most of them are available at the official Bologna website.

First of all, there is a traditional – and official – 2009 Stocktaking Report (the third in line since 2005), this time on 100+ pages and focusing on progression of the new degree system implementation across Europe, quality assurance, recognition and mobility issues as well as at the “EHEA in a global context” and Bologna “beyond 2010”.

The Stocktaking Report is again accompanied by a Eurydice study Higher Education in Europe 2009: Developments in the Bologna Process.

Within a package of “official Bologna” reports we can also find – now for the first time – a comprehensive study with Key Indicators on the Social Dimension and Mobility provided by Eurostat and Eurostudent (commissioned at the previous London 2007 Conference, and the source of the map pasted in below).

BolognaMapThere are a number of other interesting reports, mainly from various Bologna working parties but we simply can’t check all of them at once. Perhaps we should add a new Eurobarometer Survey (No. 260) on Students and Higher Education Reform which provides very interesting insights on basis of responses from 15,000 randomly-selected students from 31 European countries.

With previous Bologna biannual conferences we learnt that reports and surveys provided by two leading “Bologna partner organizations” – the European University Association (EUA) and the European Students’ Union (ESU) – are always very instructive and may also bring very critical comments. Yet, this year there is no “Trends” report. The fifth one was presented at the London Conference in 2007 and the sixth is planned only for the next conference (to be hosted jointly by Vienna and Budapest in 2010) which will officially declare that the Bologna train has reached its main station and that the EHEA is “finally constructed”. However, in April EUA published another survey, Survey of Master Degrees in Europe (by Howard Davies) which is extremely interesting with its findings about the implementation of the Bologna “second cycle”. On the other hand, a new volume of the Bologna With Student Eyes 2009 report – a presentation of student views on ongoing European higher education reforms – was produced again by ESU.

At this point, a list of new publications is not exhausted at all. We will mention only one more – a monograph which fully deserves not only to be mentioned here but to be taken into a serious consideration. There is a special reason: it is a non-Bologna Bologna study. It is not the “independent review” which the Process put on its agenda for the next year; in Europe it was received in a rather unexpected way. As its author says openly, the title of his monograph “is a deliberate play on the title of the biennial reports on the progress of Bologna produced by the European Students’ Union”: it is The Bologna Process for U.S. Eyes by Clifford Adelman (2009, IHEP) which has been already discussed in GlobalHigherEd by Anne Corbett (see ‘A European view of the new Adelman report on the Bologna Process‘).

Reading Adelman “essay”, as he also calls it, we soon notice that it is more than just a play on the title “intended to pay tribute to student involvement in the massive undertaking that is Bologna”. It is obviously also “a purposeful slap at both former U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education and the U.S. higher education community in its response to the report of that commission— neither of which involved students in visible and substantive ways, if at all.” Even more than that, no attention whatsoever was paid in the Spellings’ initiative to developments in European higher education and the Adelman’s conclusion is simple: “Such purblind stances are unforgivable in a world without borders”. Therefore, there is a clear “polemic side of this essay” as we can read in the concluding part of his essay.

This side is, most probably, intended “for U.S. eyes” only. However, when reading Adelman’s essay in the atmosphere of the last Bologna Conference I was really surprised how gentle its melody may sound to “European ears”. One should not forget that both the Sorbonne and the Bologna Declaration contain – besides other important elements – some hidden resentment about the global standing of American higher education, indicative in comments like “Universities were born in Europe”, the stressing of “a world-wide degree of attraction equal to our extraordinary cultural and scientific traditions” and a continuous call that European higher education should increase its “international competitiveness”.

Ten years after the Bologna initiative was raised it is really fantastic for European ears to listen to sentences like this one: “While still a work in progress, parts of the Bologna Process have already been imitated in Latin America, North Africa, and Australia. The core features of the Bologna Process have sufficient momentum to become the dominant global higher education model within the next two decades.” It is not a matter of politeness; there are arguments for such a statement.

zgaga-coverIn fact, it is indeed surprising that such a long time was needed to receive a real response from across the Ocean, from the US. In 2006 when I was working on a study on the “External Dimension” of the Bologna Process (see Looking out: The Bologna Process in a Global Setting) it was already obvious that “echoes” were emerging from all over the world – but not from the US. Referring to Margaret Spellings’ Commission Draft Report I wrote: “Surprisingly, from a European perspective, and probably from a non-American perspective in general, the document does not make any detailed reference to the issue of internationalisation and globalisation of higher education, which is high on agendas in other world regions!” However, on the other side it was already possible to listen to first warnings coming from academic people. I remember Catharine Stimpson who said at the ACA Hamburg conference (Germany) in Autumn 2004: “Ignorance is always dangerous, but the United States ignorance of the Bologna Process – outside of some educational experts – may be particularly dangerous.”

Much has changed within only one year (not only in higher education) – and this change should be now reflected upon, including on this side of the Ocean. We remember Adelman’s previous study (The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction, May 2008) which perhaps already made Bologna more popular in US, but what came as really surprising news for many people in Europe was information about Lumina Foundation plans (in association with the states of Indiana, Minnesota, and Utah) to establish study groups to examine the Tuning process (see Susan Robertson’s entry ‘Tuning USA’: reforming higher education in the US, Europe style‘ on this issue, as well as this Lumina press release).

I have been personally involved in the “European” Tuning process: it has been a truly excellent experience in international collaboration. Adelman is right: if you are working in a group of, say, 15 colleagues who speak 12 different languages and are coming from 15 different academic, cultural, political, economic, etc., environments, then you are really privileged. This has been an extremely productive way of modernizing our institutions, our courses and our work with students. Since colleagues from Latin America and Caribbean joined Tuning, since Tuning was spread also to Central Asia etc., our common privilege has been only increasing. But it should be made clear: the success of Tuning is not because of a supposed “European win” in the “international competitiveness game”; this would be too simplistic a conclusion. In the globalising higher education of today we need partners, as many as possible. Not only to learn new ideas from them but also to watch your own face in mirrors they can offer you. Therefore: Indiana, Minnesota, and Utah – welcome!

Adelman aims at clarifying “for North American readers, what Bologna is and what it is not”; however, it seems to me that results of his work are broader and that they can generate new ideas not only with American but also with European and, hopefully, global readers as well. (Last but not least: it could be read as a useful ‘textbook’ also for Europeans.) Yet, not in the same line for all; contexts are obviously different. He urges Americans “to learn something from beyond our own borders that just might help us rethink our higher education enterprise” but also gives a mirror to Europeans enabling them to leave working on implementation aside for a moment and to reflect upon what they have been doing so far and where are they going now.

At this point we are back in post-April 2009 Europe. In their Communiqué, Ministers shifted the landmark from Bologna 2010 to Bologna 2020. Its very first sentence makes us realise that the story is not finished. “In the decade up to 2020 European higher education has a vital contribution to make in realising a Europe of knowledge that is highly creative and innovative.” Of course, “over the past decade we have developed the EHEA”; there is no doubt that “greater compatibility and comparability of the systems of higher education” has been achieved and that “higher education is being modernized” but “not all the objectives have been completely achieved” and, therefore, “the full and proper implementation […] will require increased momentum and commitment beyond 2010.”

StocktakingCoverReports and surveys produced and presented in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve give additional insights. When one has to mark – in a complex situation like this one – a further way on, it is not so important to factor in has been already been left behind. The real question is a vague path and possible crossroads in the foreseeable future. The 2009 Stocktaking Report openly admits that the deadline to have completed the implementation of National Qualifications Frameworks by 2010 “appears to have been too ambitious” (the Communiqué postponed this task “by 2012”) and that “there is not enough integration at national level between the qualifications framework, learning outcomes and ECTS”. Similarly, “a learning outcomes-based culture across the EHEA still needs a lot of effort, and it will not be completed by 2010”. These deficiencies warn that tasks have been taken perhaps in too formal a manner and that there is quite a lot of further work which demands a conceptual and not only “technical” expertise.

On the other hand, there are a lot of concerns with the employability of new Bachelor graduates after the Bologna first cycle. With regard to the Master – i.e., the Bologna second cycle – and the issue of employability, Howard Davies (EUA) made another crucial comment in his Survey of Master Degrees in Europe: “The Bologna three-cycle system cannot be said to be in place until this process is complete. In other words, until all 46 countries have evolved beyond the position in which the Master is the sole point of initial entry into the market for high-skilled labour.” In short: “the definition of the Bologna Master awaits the full fleshing out of the Bologna Bachelor.”

Of course, students (i.e., ESU in their Bologna With Student Eyes 2009) raise this issue even more critically: “inadequate understanding of the purpose of these reforms has negatively affected students, pressuring them to follow longer periods of study in order to reach a position of sustainable employment”. They are “impatient” as students should be: “Although processes appear to be moving in the right direction, they are doing so at something of the pace of a snail.” They complain on “the level of ‘divergence’ in the perceptions of national ministries, higher education institutions and students themselves”. Their report starts with “Repetition is deeply dissatisfying” (meaning that there is often not much difference between their critical statements of this year and of previous reports) and this is good: students are still here to push rectors and ministers forward.

In their Communiqué Ministers strived to pour some new fuel for the next period. They decided to amend, a little, the organisational structure. In the future “the Bologna Process will be co-chaired by the country holding the EU presidency and a non-EU country”. Thus, the first of the missing elements that Anne Corbett warned about just few days before the last conference (Bologna as “modelled on the EU Presidency system […] excluded 19 countries”; The Guardian, 21 April) seems to be settled, at least partly. On the other hand, in the most ambitious sentence of the Communiqué they set a new mobility target: “In 2020, at least 20% of those graduating in the EHEA should have had a study or training period abroad.” This is absolutely great; however, some more ambitious targets would not harm the future “beyond 2010”.

But it is necessary to warn also about new targets: “Repetition is deeply dissatisfying” students may say. “Action lines” in policy documents necessarily request implementation – and implementation is the really hard job. However, are the open questions about Bologna close to its goal line (2010) just about its “full implementation” – or are they more than that? I would opt for the later: implementation of a given principle always comes into trouble when it is taken just as a matter of a “technique”. What is needed for its “full implementation” – e.g. during the next decade – it is a strong momentum, a (new) vision which hits at the heart of reality. Do we have it?

Bologna has produced world-wide attention and, perhaps, its new momentum and its new vision could also start from this source. Forgetting this fact would be unforgivable in a world without borders: in Europe as well as in the US or any other global region.

Pavel Zgaga

Was there a student voice in Leuven?

esucoverThe European Students’ Union (ESU) is clearly enjoying being a part of the Bologna Process. Claiming the legitimacy of representing 11 million students from 49 National student unions, the ESU is a stakeholder group directly involved in the Bologna Process and contributing position papers (see Bologna With Student Eyes and the Prague Student Declaration) to the Leuven Meeting.

Claims to representativeness though should be treated with a degree of caution and this applies even more to the unambiguous support which ESU gives to what it calls the Bologna Vision:

The Bologna Process is all about a vision, a vision of breaking down educational borders and creating a European Higher Education Area where learning is encouraged, facilitated and enabled in a simplified, integrated way across the continent

At which point it begs the question of whether the critical and analytical perspectives have not rather been blunted by proximity as privileged insiders to the discourses and visions. The ESU would not be the first representative body to be taken up by bureaucratic and careerist agendas and seduced by proximity to forums of power and influence.

The problem is that the ESU has become rather more of a cheerleader of the Process than a critical participant in it. In its 2009 Prague Declaration, the ESU did hold out for higher education as both a public good and a public responsibility and wanted a guarantee of free higher education accessible for all, based on public funding. However, the levels and diversity of positions with regard to public funding and tuition fees in the Bologna signatory countries means that this call is at best naïve. And it goes hand in hand with a call for the full Bologna action lines to be implemented and for the process to go further, faster and be rigorously benchmarked. In effect what they want is a level of harmonisation and coercion which would bring a blush to even the most ardent European Commission official. It is all very well to declare in favour of public provision and against tuition fees but if the Process is about making it easier to achieve precisely the opposite then it might be more useful to have less vision and more critical analysis.

The level of acquiescence with the Bologna scripts from the ESU is breathtaking. Mobility is seen as an unalloyed good:

Its benefits for students, academics, institutions and society as a whole are undisputed. Xenophobia exists and becomes especially evident in the event of an economic crisis such as the one we are currently facing. Mobility will require openness and will contribute to a more tolerant European society

In fact of course mobility is a far more problematic issue than this. The ESU does recognise the dangers of the commodification of higher education, the promotion of brain drain and the creation of a higher education market but seems to see these as somehow side-effects rather than of the essence of the Bologna Process. The ESU both opposes making a market out of higher education and actively calls for the process which is contributing to it to be extended and implemented.

louvain

If you want to hear student voices which can be more detached than this, you have to look elsewhere. You would need to hear from the occupiers of university buildings in Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Valencia in opposition to the implications of the Bologna Process, the implementation of Credit Transfer and the pressures for rationalisation in university teaching.  Or what about the dizzy revolts against the commercialisation, managerialism and quality assurance pathologies of Bologna, French-style? Or perhaps those involved in Greek struggles over University spatial and legal autonomy? Even the poster-boys of education reform, the Finns, have got into a tangle over higher education reforms which flow from the logic if not the vision of Bologna.

louvain1Meanwhile the Vague Européenne called for a Counter Summit in Leuven to protest against the Bologna Process. Supported by a host of radical student organisations, the summit set out to give voice to a coherent opposition to the actually existing Higher Education reforms which have been both enabled and logically derived from the Bologna Process.

At national and institutional levels then, particular kinds of student voices are being heard. At the level of the Bologna Process, it is unlikely that the ESU can achieve the level of detachment needed given the considerable stake which it has to the success of a Process which gives it a central role.

Peter Jones