The Bologna Process in Africa: a case of aspiration, inspiration, or both?

The original Bologna Process architects must surely rub their eyes on occasions, and wonder quite how ‘they’ managed to let a genie ‘so big’ out of a bottle that is more often characterized as a ‘bottleneck of bureaucracy’.

The Bologna Process is not only one of the biggest news stories in higher education in Europe (see our stories here, here and here), but its magic seems to be spreading with tsunamic affect. Bologna is fast becoming a truly global phenomenon. Nations as far afield as Cameroon, China, Australia, Russia and Brazil, are either talking about, or signing on to, a Bologna style ‘restructuring brand’. Last year, the Bologna Follow-up Group released its report on the ‘external dimension’ of the Bologna Process, and whilst wrapped up in ‘euro-speak’ (‘dimension’ being a euphemism for the various modalities of Europe as a political project), it nevertheless makes for very, very, interesting reading.

Of particular interest, then, is this week’s World University News report on the Bologna Process in Africa, on this occasion with a focus on Cameroon. Since 2003 (the Bologna Process began only four years earlier in 1999) a number of francophone African countries have begun the reform of their higher education systems. These changes are regarded as essential, in view of the need for the global harmonization of higher education and increased student mobility.

For many African countries, the Cameroon included, their students study abroad in those countries which were their former colonial masters. As a result, as University World News reports:

…in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of African students studying in France totalled 125,585, almost half of all students from abroad. Nearly 54,000 of these were from sub-Saharan Africa, of whom the 6,280 Cameroonians represented the second highest contingent, after Senegal.

Around Africa, such as in the Maghreb region (made up of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), groupings of countries are busy putting the Bologna model into place. With higher-education traditions modeled after the French system, all three former French colonies are currently realigning their higher education systems with the licence, master, doctorat (LMD or 3-5-8) architecture that is now a part of the French higher-education landscape.

These processes have been pushed forward by a series of regional meetings. In July 2007, a conference was convened in the Democratic Republic of Congo to discuss African Universities’ Adaptation to the Bologna Process. This meeting followed two conferences in Dakar, Senegal (July 2005) and El Jadida, Morocco (May 2006). The 2007 conference aimed to discuss ways in which African universities could use lessons learned from the Bologna process to build more cooperative international relationships across four main themes:

  • the decision process that has brought African universities or countries to opt for the Bologna model
  • the direct or indirect effects of the decision to adopt the Bologna model: curriculum reform, quality assurance and accreditation, mobility, recognition and joint degrees, professional master’s/research master’s degrees and doctoral schools
  • the current evolution of the emerging countries’ universities, and their place in globalization
  • the role of international and/or financial organizations in the promotion of the Bologna model.

It is clearly important to ensure articulation between different countries qualifications regimes to ensure ease of mobility across borders.

However, this is not the only reason for advancing a Bologna-inspired restructuring of higher education. It is also being used as a tool to generate new forms of regionalism, a development GlobalHigherEd has been covering in earlier entries (see here and here). The World Education Services, for example, reports that for the three countries of the Maghreb, much of this regional collaboration was undertaken with an eye to developing a ‘Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Area.’ A founding document for the proposed education area was signed in January 2006 and is known as the Catania Declaration . In addition to Euro-Mediterranean and Maghreb countries, Egypt and Jordan are also signatory to the Declaration.

So, while the advance of the Bologna Process in Europe does have important implications for those countries that continue to have strong ties to Europe’s system of higher education and labour markets, Bologna is also important as it is triggering new pockets and forms of regionalisms. It is in this sense, then, that we might say that Bologna in Africa is both aspirational and inspirational.

Susan Robertson