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Recomendations for Yerevan

The Future of the Bologna Process

1. Introduction

There is no doubt that the Bologna Process has changed since it’s beginning over 15 years ago. Gradually there have been more and more debates about what the future of the Bologna Process will hold. At the Bologna Follow‐Up Group meeting in Athens in Spring of 2014, the issue of the future of the Bologna Process was brought to the table, and it’s now slated to be one of the most key debates at the ministerial conference in Yerevan, May 2015. With each of the commitments made, reform and implementation has been slowing down. There is a growing a perception that the Bologna Process is at a standstill, and not enough is being done to ensure the success of the set out commitments from the side of the countries or within the Process itself.

The following presents an overview of what students perceive as the path that the Bologna Process has taken and major challenges as it stands now, their views on how these challenges can be overcome and how they would like to see for the future.

2. Main Findings

The were several main findings when National Unions of Students were asked about the future of the Process and the general implementation process of Bologna reforms. They can be structured into the main challenges they believe require redress, followed by their perceptions on what should come for the future.

Main challenges

Students named a number of challenges of the Bologna Process and the implementation of the reforms necessary for fulfilling the commitments that have been made. Among other notable facts, only 4 out of 38 unions reported that they very much agree that all of the Bologna reforms have been implemented in their country, and there were no unions that agreed very much that all of the Bologna reforms implemented have been well implemented or of high quality. Other challenges mentioned are a lack of resources, lack of knowledge, lack of interest and an interest in only part of the reforms.

Lack of resources

A general lack of funding is highlighted as a the main barrier towards full implementation of the Bologna process reforms. Over two‐thirds of the countries, a total of 26, cite funding as the main barrier towards full implementation of the aims and reforms set out in the Bologna process.

Lack of knowledge

The other main challenge that a majority of respondents highlighted was a lack of knowledge about the Bologna reforms. As the Bologna Process has existed since 1999, it is easy to imagine that there may have been large changes in personnel both within the governments and higher education institutions, which could mean both high turnover in the knowledge‐base and changes in policy.

This couples with the fact that several countries highlight that there is a lack of a long‐term vision from governments about how the higher education system should look like, and a lack of understanding about the entire idea about the Bologna Process.

Lack of interest

The lack of interest requires further analysis. Would there still be a lack of interest if the level of knowledge was higher and the amount of funding for such reforms were higher? One respondent highlighted the view of their government towards the Bologna process as “yesterdays problem”. Others mentioned that there is a perception that they are “ahead” so it is not prioritised as much as it should be. Among the groups mentioned lacking interest, the highest percentage are the teachers, higher education institutions and students themselves. Having a top‐down approach from governments into the classrooms, not involving the grassroots in the decision‐making and implementation and not communicating the objectives of the Process and its reforms may be damaging the interest of both universities, teachers and students alike.

Interest in only part of the reforms

Many of the countries where also shown only to be interested in implementing part of the Bologna reforms, in total 17 countries were shown to only be interested in partial reform. These are Bosnia and Herzegovina , Slovenia , Croatia, Sweden, France, Slovakia, Spain, Latvia, the United Kingdom, Belgium (French), Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Malta and Macedonia. This raises a major issues for the future issue for the Bologna process. Will the reforms and commitments work if countries are not interested in implementing all reforms? What can been done to make countries more interested in implementing the full reforms?

What do they want?

Restructuring of the Bologna process

Over half of the countries would like to see the Bologna Process revitalised, with a more clear distinction between the EHEA and the Bologna Process, and a several speeds process with an added value. The main challenge they see for the Bologna Process in upcoming years (2015‐2018) remains the need to “ensure that all countries finish implementing the targets” (Finland) and “the differences in implementation in different countries” (Bosnia & Herzegovina), ensure “the proper implementation of the Bologna Process” (Slovakia) and “a real functioning of the Bologna Process” (Poland). LSA Latvia mentioned specifically the need for “rearranging the structures‐‐making a two‐ or more‐speeds Bologna Process and defining stronger criteria to enter the EHEA”.

Peer‐learning

The need for more knowledge is an often‐mentioned challenge, as already highlighted above. Twenty‐five of the NUSes want to see the Bologna Process become more of a forum for peer‐learning. We can see that those who wish to see these are also very much the same unions highlighting the lack of knowledge as the main challenge to full implementation of the Bologna process.

Worth noting

A full seven National Unions’ of Students want the European Union to take over the Bologna process. While far from the view of the majority it is worth noting that this view also exists. There have been several research articles that highlight the increased involvement of the European Union in matters regarding higher education (Keeling 2006, Robertson 2010). The European Union has also played a large role in commissioning a number of research studies and providing grants for projects that have fed into or been based on the Bologna Process. Will this development lead to increased disinterest of the EU countries to engage in the Bologna process? If a two‐speed process is already developing, how do we ensure the participation of non‐EU countries in common reforms to education?

3. Conclusions and considerations for the future

While there are many challenges towards the process we can still see that is a strong interest and hope for the future. Nearly all of our unions see the need to revitalise the process, as it has played a large role in improving the higher education systems in all of Europe, yet there are overarching issues, such as a general lack of implementation and a declining interest among some key stakeholders. With the upcoming discussions on the future of the Bologna Process at the Ministerial Meeting to be held this year, is clear that there are changes that need to be made, and a holistic view of how to tackle the challenges must be the guiding force for change.

Reviewing the structures of the Bologna Process and looking into ways to motivate and incentivise member countries to strengthen their efforts in implementation and ensure continued cooperation will be necessary in the revitalisation process. In strengthening cooperation and implementation, arranging peer‐learning exercises and high‐level trainings is a key factor that students mention. In both restructuring and providing trainings, countries must assume their responsibility in providing adequate funding to ensure that the structures are sustainable and the reforms are implemented properly; commitments which ministers have made, but many have not followed‐up on.

Recommendations

● Restructure the Bologna process

Different countries have joined the process at different times, and there are differences in the extent to which different member countries have implemented the action lines. While some countries are still focusing on the implementation of the structural reforms, those who have already implemented them are willing to continue the further development of the cooperation within the European Higher Education Area. There is no doubt that there is a need for change, and a two‐speed process should be considered for the future of the Bologna Process and the sustainability of cooperation in the European Higher Education Area.

Furthermore, ESU encourages the Bologna Follow‐Up Group to explore possibilities for a permanent Bologna Secretariat that would be responsible for supporting other structures of the Bologna Process. The Bologna Secretariat should not be handed to any single European institution, country or organisation, but should rather rely on the collective support of the participating Bologna countries and organisations.

More attention also needs to be put on the governance of the Bologna process and the European Higher Education Area. The decisions on the steering of the process should be reserved for the Bologna ministerial meetings; however ESU believes that the Bologna Follow‐Up Group (BFUG) should be given an even stronger voice during the entire process. The working groups should discuss the issues in‐depth, prepare the background information and propose the issues to be discussed in the Bologna Follow‐Up Group, while the visionary decisions are made at the ministerial conference (ESU 2013)

● Promote training for teachers and academics about the Bologna process

Ensuring common knowledge, training and understanding of teachers themselves is one of the major challenges that remains for the Bologna process. Policy‐makers and key players must also look into how reforms are implemented. Successful implementation and reform should ultimately result in changes in the classroom and in students’ daily lives. If the implementation is an entirely top‐down process without the involvement of those at the grassroots, reforms can be met with a lack of interest and understanding, or worse yet, resistance.

● Ensure adequate funding and take advantage of existing opportunities

The European Union funds several initiatives that are related to the Bologna process directly or indirectly. This is done through the Erasmus+ programme which has action lines directly related to Bologna. The Horizon2020 programme also has funds that can benefit Bologna reform initiatives.

Education is also now included as an opportunity for funding through the structural funds. Far from all countries take advantage of these opportunities, and very few take advantage of them fully or consistently.

Countries themselves must also take responsibility for the process that they have agreed to be members of. The meetings, peer learning activities, the structures of the Bologna Process and its further development must be funded adequately. A fund should be established to support the permanent structures and common projects and events on relevant topics, allowing a more diverse group of countries to participate and take the lead in the follow‐up activities. A serious evaluation of how to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the Process, as well as ensuring proper implementation of the reforms themselves cannot happen without the financial support of all member countries.

● Ensure quality national Bologna Follow‐up groups

In order to achieve proper implementation on the national level, all member countries should establish (or continue) a structure with decision‐making power that would include all stakeholders (akin the Bologna Follow‐Up Group) that would be responsible for the implementation and follow‐up of the reforms while respecting the autonomy of higher education institutions. Students, academic staff and institutional leadership and management bear the brunt of any change and thus should be part of any discussion and decision.

● Better data collection and analysis

While the current implementation and progress reports have contributed to accelerating the reform by exposing the countries’ evolution, at present, it is largely only the governments of the countries themselves that do the reporting. ESU sees the need for an independent monitoring and reporting mechanism. Objective indicators, based on the values of the Bologna Process, should be developed. The

Bologna Follow‐Up Group should develop methodology to complement the current reports with better data gathering from different sources of information at the national level and not just ministerial officials. Together with improved data gathering and analysis, this would present the basis for further discussion and actions, however these indicators should not be used as a tool for incentive management of students or institutions.

5. References

ESU (2013). Introduction to ESU’s Policies on Higher Education. European Students’ Union: Brussels.
http://www.esu‐online.org/news/article/6064/2013‐Introduction‐to‐ESUs‐policies‐on‐higher‐education/(external link)

Keeling, R. (2006). “The Bologna Process and the Lisbon Research Agenda: The European Commission’s
expanding role in higher education discourse”. European Journal of Education, 41(6).

Robertson, S.L. (2010). “The EU, ‘regulatory state regionalism’ and new modes of higher education governance”. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 8(1)