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

Global higher ed players, regional ambitions, and interregional fora

How do dominant national and regional players in global higher ed speak to, and engage with, other parts of the world, especially when these parts are viewed as ‘less developed’? This is a complicated question to start answering (not that it is possible, in fact!).

History matters, for it has laid a foundational path, including taken-for-granted assumptions that shape the tone, mechanisms, and power dynamics of bilateral and/or interregional relationships. Times change, of course, and the rationale and logics behind the relationship building cannot help but evolve. The end of the Cold War, for example, enabled the building of relationships (e.g., the 46 country European Higher Education Area) that were previously impossible to imagine, let alone create.

The structure of higher education systems matter too. How does a nation ‘speak’ (e.g., the USA) when there is no senior minister of higher education, and indeed no national system per se (such as that in Germany)? It is possible, though content and legitimacy are derived out of a relatively diverse array of stakeholders.

In this context we have seen new forms of engagement emerging between Europe and the Global South, and between the USA and the Global South. I am wary that the ‘Global South’ concept is a problematic one, but it is used enough to convey key aspects of the power/territory nexus that I’ll stick with it for the duration of this brief entry.

What are the driving forces underlying such new forms of global higher ed engagement?

Clearly the desire to engage in capacity building, for a myriad of reasons, is a driving force.

A second force is concern about what the other dominant players are doing; a form of global engagement inspired or spurred on by the competitive impulse.

A third and related driving force is the amorphous desire to project ‘soft power‘ – the externalization of values, the translation of agendas, the enhancement of the attraction dimension, and so on, such that transformations align with the objectives of the projecting peoples and systems.

All three driving forces are evident is a spate of events and initiatives underway in 2008, and especially this October.

Europe Engages Asia

For example, the logics of capacity building, the need to enhance ties to select regions (e.g., East, South, and Southeast Asia), and the projection of soft power, enticed Europe to forge new relations across space via the ASEM framework. The inaugural meeting of ASEM’s Ministries of Education, which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and titled ‘Education and Training for Tomorrow: Common Perspectives in Asia and Europe’, took place in Berlin from 5-6 May 2008. The three official ‘public’ documents associated with this event can be downloaded here, here, and here.

This initiative, as we noted earlier (‘Ministers of Education and fora for thinking beyond the nation‘), is part of an emerging move to have ministers of education/higher education/research play a role in thinking bilaterally, regionally, and indeed globally. One interesting aspect of this development is that ministries (and ministers) of education are starting, albeit very unevenly, to think beyond the nation within the institutional structure of the nation-state. In this case, though, a regional voice (the European Union) is very much present, as are other stakeholders (e.g., the European University Association).

A linked event – the 1st ASEM Rectors’ Conference: Asia-Europe Higher Education Leadership Dialogue “Between Tradition and Reform: Universities in Asia and Europe at the Crossroads” – will be held from 27-29 October in Berlin as well, while other related late-2008 schemes include:

More broadly, link here for information about the new (2008) EU-Asia Higher Education Platform (EAHEP).

The US Engages Asia

Moving across the Atlantic, to the USA, we have seen the logics of capacity building, the need to enhance ties to select regions (e.g., Asia and Africa), and the projection of soft power, guiding some new initiatives. The US Government, for example, sponsored the Asia Regional Higher Education Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between 6-9 October 2008.  As the official press release from the US Embassy in Dhaka puts it, the:

Asia Regional Higher Education Summit is sponsored by the United States Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and co-hosted by the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. This Summit is a follow-up to the Global Higher Education Summit recently held in Washington, DC. The Washington summit was convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and USAID Administrator and Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Henrietta Fore. The Summit’s objective was to expand the role and impact of U.S. and foreign higher education institutions in worldwide social and economic development.

It is worth noting that countries representing ‘Asia’ at the Summit include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United States and Vietnam.

The US Engages Africa

And this week we see the US Government sponsoring the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. This summit is also, like the US-linked Asia event noted above, a follow-on initiative of the Global Higher Education Summit (29–30 April 2008).

According to the official program, the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit is a three-day event:

that will address innovative approaches to meet the challenges of the higher education community in Africa; to learn from each other by sharing best practices in partnering; and to foster mutually beneficial partnerships initiated before and during the summit. In this regionally focused forum, speakers and participants will discuss how higher education influences human and institutional capacity development, and plays a role in preparing Africa for economic growth and global competitiveness.

The summit is designed to focus on developing partnerships between higher education institutions, foundations and the private sector at the national and regional levels, although consideration will also be given to international and cross-continental levels.

Summit participation will be limited to presidents, chancellors, and rectors representing African and American universities, and foundation and corporate leaders to ensure maximum interaction and sharing of perspectives between and among decision makers and authorized agents. The working sessions and organized breaks will be structured to maximize input and interactions between summit participants.

The summit aims to provide opportunities for participants to:

  • Reinforce the goals of the initial Higher Education Summit for Global Development within the context of the African continent for the purpose of moving to concrete actions;
  • Raise awareness about and generate interest in the objectives of the first World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Education Alliance (GEA) in Africa and the Global Development Commons (GDC);
  • Highlight the importance of higher education in African development;
  • Add to the body of knowledge and further the discussion about the link between higher education and development;
  • Share successes and generate actual partnerships and alliances with universities, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations participating in the summit;
  • Generate ideas and recommendations to share with universities, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations;
  • Generate a progress report on the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative and planning grants.

The open press events are outlined here, while the detailed program is here. See here too for an example of a recently announced EU-Africa higher ed initiative.

‘Soft Power’ and Global Higher Ed

The soft power dimension behind the formation of linkages with regions like Asia and Africa is not always made explicit by Europe nor the USA. Yet two aspects of soft power, as it is sought after, are worth noting in today’s entry.

First, the intertwining of both soft and ‘hard’ power agendas and players is more evident in the case of the USA.  For example Henrietta H. Fore (Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator, USAID, and pictured below) is speaking at the higher education summit in Africa, as well as at the Pentagon about the establishment of the AFRICOM initiative:

Secretary Gates has spoken powerfully and eloquently on many occasions about the need for the United States to enhance its non-military as well as military instruments of national power in service of our foreign policy objectives. The Department of State and USAID are proud to play their respective primary roles in diplomacy and development.

Thus AFRICOM, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, effectively has an Africa-focused global higher ed initiative associated with it (under the control of AFRICOM partner USAID).

Source and photo caption from AFRICOM:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Left to right, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Admiral Mike Mullen; Henrietta H. Fore, administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development and director of U.S. Foreign Assistance; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; flag bearer; General William E. Ward, Commander of U.S. Africa Command; and U.S. Africa Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka stand together after the unfolding of the flag during the U.S. Africa Command Unified Command Activation ceremony in the Pentagon, October 1, 2008. (DoD photo by U.S. Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess)

AFRICOM Photo ID 20081003133444

Clearly the USA and Europe have adopted very different approaches to global higher ed in strategic ‘less developed’ regions vis a vis the links being made to hard power agendas.

Second, many of the US-led initiatives with USAID support are associated with political appointees (e.g., U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings), or leaders of more autonomous stakeholder organizations (e.g., Peter McPherson, President, NASULGC) who are publicly associated with particular political regimes.  In McPherson’s case, it is the Bush/Cheney regime, as profiled in Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran. But what happens when elections occur?  Is it a coincidence that the rush of US events is happening a month before the US federal election?  Will these key players regarding Africa (and Asia) be as supported by the new regime that comes to power in early 2009?

Another perspective is that such US initiatives don’t really matter in the end, for the real projectors of soft power are hundreds of autonomous, highly ranked, active, and well-resourced US universities. Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, highlighted the latest stage of Cornell’s work in South Asia, while the rush of US universities to establish campuses and programs in the Middle East was done irrespective of people like Spellings, and institutions like USAID (and the US Government more generally). In other words these universities don’t need ministerial talk shops in places like Berlin or DC to open doors and do their stuff. Of course many European universities are just as active as a Cornell, but the structure of European higher education systems is vastly different, and it cannot help but generate a centralizing impulse in the projection of soft power.

As a phenomenon, the actions of key players in global higher ed regarding in developing regional initiatives are well worth illuminating, including by the sponsors and participants themselves. Regions, systems, and international relations are being constructed in a conceptual and programmatic sense. As we know from any history of bilateral and interregional relations, frameworks that help generate a myriad of tangible outcomes are being constructed, and in doing so future development paths, from all perspectives, are being lain down.

Yet it is also important not to read too much into this fora-intensive agenda. We need to reflect upon how geo-strategic visions and agendas are connected to and transformative of the practices of day-to-day life in the targeted regions. How do these visions and agendas make their mark in lecture halls, hiring procedures, curricula, and course content? This is not a development process that unfolds, in a seamless and uni-directional way, and it is important to think about global higher ed players, regional ambitions, and interregional fora at a series of interrelated scales to even begin understanding what is going on.

Kris Olds