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From Paris to Paris – Bologna Process goes full cycle

12 April 2018

The Bologna Process, unlike the name suggests, actually began at the Sorbonne in Paris on 25 May 1998, at a meeting between four European ministers. And this is where it will return, after exactly 20 years, for the Bologna Ministerial Conference & Policy Forum (23-25 May). 

But until then, there is still much work to be done. The Paris Communiqué, which marks the state of play and sets out the goals for the future, is in the process of being drafted. The content is still under debate, but evidently, there will be a strong emphasis on values in higher education, as these are not respected everywhere, and also, of course, on implementation. The latter is hardly a surprise, as for the past 10 years, almost every Communiqué has expressed concern about slow implementation in the past round and hope for the next one. But over the years, the Bologna Process’s approach has become more sophisticated. The 2018 regular Bologna Implementation Report will be available when ministers meet and will, among other matters, remind them that they have not fulfilled their promise to widen participation and social inclusion in the European Higher Education Area. EUA is among the parties committed to push for this in the coming Bologna rounds. The report as such is a real achievement, as it combines results from a survey addressed to 48 governments and with statistical data from EUROSTAT and EUROSTUDENT. It has become a reliable source of information for governments, institutions, scholars and journalists. This time round, it will also take into account data from EUA’s forthcoming TRENDS 2018 Report on learning and teaching, which no other Europe-wide survey has assessed. 

In addition, ministers are expected to adopt a new peer-learning approach, in which countries that are doing well on three key commitments (quality assurance, degree cycle system, and recognition) support those that have not made progress. This has been hotly debated among the members of the Bologna Follow-up Group: whereas some asked for severe measures in order to ensure that countries would catch up, and possibly even sanctions if they do not, others emphasised the voluntary approach of Bologna and the collegial spirit. A compromise has now been proposed in the form of a peer learning approach in which groups of countries have a chance to learn from the experience of others that have been very successful in implementing reforms.

But the Paris Communiqué is likely to bring some more changes. The short cycle (EQF5) which does not exist in all higher education systems, will become a separate cycle of the EHEA Qualification Framework. A revision of the diploma supplement will be proposed to its “owners”, the EC, the Council of Europe and UNESCO, together with a recommendation to governments and the sector to prepare for its digital use, which is also recommended in the study commissioned by the EC. 

The “European University Networks” are expected to be mentioned as an initiative of the EU, welcomed by the Bologna Process, although this might be conditional to prospects of non-EU countries participating - if not in the pilot to be launched by the EC in autumn this year under Erasmus+ - then at least under the EC’s new education funding programme from 2021. They will also feature in the programme at the Bologna Ministers Conference in Paris, immediately after the opening, at which President Macron will potentially be present, as expressed by him in September 2017.  While the list of participants has not yet been finalised, around 30 European ministers have confirmed their participation in the Bologna Policy Forum, as well as a number of ministers from non-EHEA countries. Most delegations appear to be following the suggestion to also include a university leader and a student representative, so as to demonstrate the partnership that exists between ministries and the higher education sector.

The next phase of Bologna will be relatively short, from 2018-2020, with the Secretariat and the Ministerial Conference hosted by the Italian partners, and the work-programme being developed as from this summer under the Austrian and Swiss chairmanship. The continuation of the Process beyond 2020 is open. This is expected to be one of the topics during the next phase, along with a discussion on goals and working methods.

 Apart from implementation, and partially also an update of the Bologna structural reforms, EUA will push in collaboration with its members for a better use and operationalisation of existing knowledge and good practice in learning and teaching.

European University Association (EUA)

Brussels office:
Avenue de l’Yser, 24
1040 Brussels
Tel: +32 (0) 2 230 55 44

Geneva office:
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Case postale 3174
1211 Geneva 3
Tel: +41 22 552 02 96