Higher Education and Research


Bologna for Pedestrians

What is the Bologna Process?
How is the Process organised?
How did it all begin?
1999
Prague 2001
Berlin 2003
Bergen 2005
London 2007
Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve 2009
Council of Europe
Who participates in the Process?

What is the Bologna Process? 

The Bologna Process is a European reform process aiming at establishing a European Higher Education Area by 2010. It is an unusual process in that it is loosely structured and driven by the 46 countries participating in it in cooperation with a number of international organisations, including the Council of Europe.

This probably did not really answer the question. It comes down to the following:

By 2010 higher education systems in European countries should be organised in such a way that:

  • it is easy to move from one country to the other (within the European Higher Education Area) – for the purpose of further study or employment;
  • the attractiveness of European higher education is increased so many people from non-European countries also come to study and/or work in Europe;
  • the European Higher Education Area provides Europe with a broad, high quality and advanced knowledge base, and ensures the further development of Europe as a stable, peaceful and tolerant community.

This goal is rather ambitious and it is not connected only to the Bologna Process. However, within the Process, the necessary tools for achieving these goals are being developed and implemented.

Before we move further along, two things should be made clear:

The Bologna Process is not based on an intergovernmental treaty.

There are several documents that have been adopted by the ministers responsible for higher education of the countries participating in the Process, but these are not legally binding documents (as international treaties usually are). Therefore, it is the free will of every country and its higher education community to endorse or reject the principles of the Bologna Process, although the effect of “international peer pressure” should not be underestimated.

It is not foreseen that by 2010 all European countries should have the same higher education system.
On the contrary, one of the very valued features of Europe is its balance between diversity and unity. Rather, the Bologna Process tries to establish bridges that make it easier for individuals to move from one education system or country to another. Therefore, even if e.g. degree systems may become more similar, the specific nature of every higher education system should be preserved. If not, what would be the point to go somewhere else to study if what one studies is going to be the same as back home? The developments within the Bologna Process should serve to facilitate “translation” of one system to the other and therefore contribute to the increase of mobility of students and academics and to the increase of employability throughout Europe.

How is the Process organised? 

There are several levels of implementation – international, national and institutional.

When it comes to the international level – there are several modes of cooperation and several structures developing the Bologna Process. There is the so-called Bologna follow-up group (BFUG) that consists of all signatory countries and the European Commission as well as the Council of Europe, EUA, ESU (ex-ESIB), EURASHE, UNESCO-CEPES, ENQA, Educational International Pan-European Structure and UNICE as consultative members.

In addition to this, numerous seminars are being organised throughout Europe, which carry the unofficial label of “Bologna seminars”. These are discussing various issues of the Bologna Process, obstacles to implementation and possibilities for co-operation. You will find an updated calendar on current events on the web site of the Benelux Bologna Secretariat. The results of previous Bologna seminars and activities are available on the UK Bologna Secretariat, the Bologna-Bergen web site (2003 – 2005) and the Berlin Ministerial Conference web site (2001 – 2003).

Every two years a Ministerial Conference is organised where Ministers responsible for higher education of all participating countries gather to evaluate the progress and to set guidelines and priorities for the upcoming period. The last conference took place in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve 2009. Previous conferences were held in London in May (2007), Bergen (2005), Berlin (2003), Prague (2001) and Bologna (1999) – see next section for more information.

The national level usually involves the government and ministries responsible for higher education, rectors’ conferences or other university associations, student unions but also in some cases quality assurance agencies, employers etc. Many European countries have already changed their legislation in line with the goals of the Bologna Process and others are preparing to do so. Depending on the country and the development of its higher education system so far, some are introducing ECTS, discussing their degree structures and qualifications, financing and management of higher education, mobility programmes etc.

The institutional level involves higher education institutions, their faculties or departments, student and staff representatives and many other actors. The priorities vary from country to country and from institution to institution. However, it is important to stress that without adequate implementation at the institutional level, little can be achieved in reaching the Bologna objectives.

How did it all begin? 

The Process officially started in 1999, with the signing of the Bologna Declaration. Twenty-nine countries have signed the declaration on 19 June 1999 in Bologna (hence the name of the whole Process). The Declaration states the following objectives:

  • adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees;
  • adoption of a system essentially based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate;
  • establishment of a system of credits – such as in the ECTS;
  • promotion of mobility by overcoming obstacles to the free movement of students, teachers, researchers and administrative staff;
  • promotion of European co-operation in quality assurance;
  • promotion of the necessary European dimensions in higher education.

These six objectives are the essence of the Bologna process and have since been developed further, see below.

However, prior to the signing of the Bologna Declaration, another document was adopted by four countries: France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom – the Sorbonne Declaration. This declaration provided the necessary push towards the Bologna Declaration and indicated already in 1998 the main goals of the European Higher Education Area.

1999 

What has happened since 1999? 

After the signing of the Bologna Declaration, a follow-up structure has been organised. The aforementioned Bologna Follow-Up Group was formed. It decided that the Ministerial meetings should take place every two years and the first was held in Prague in 2001. In the meantime, a general rapporteur for the Follow-Up Group was selected. This was Mr. Pedro Lourtie, who later became Deputy Minister of Education in Portugal. His task was to monitor implementation of the objectives of Bologna declaration and report on this to the Ministers of Education in Prague (for the report click here). Furthermore, different countries have organised the so-called “Bologna seminars” which covered various important topics. European University Association (which was formed in March 2001 from two European university networks) developed the so-called Trends II report – report on the implementation of the Bologna declaration at the institutional level and adopted the Message from the Salamanca Convention 2001. ESIB adopted the Student Gőteborg Declaration as a special student message for the Prague Ministerial Summit.

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Prague 2001 

In May 2001, in Prague, new countries joined the Bologna process: Croatia, Cyprus, Liechtenstein and Turkey. The ministers adopted the so-called Prague Communiqué, which sets guidelines for the next two years, until the Ministerial Conference on the Bologna Process in Berlin in 2003.

It is very important to stress that the Prague Summit introduced several new elements in the Process:

In between 2001 and 2003, an even greater number of “Bologna seminars” were organised. Mr. Pavel Zgaga (former Minister of Education of Slovenia, one of those who actually signed the Bologna Declaration) was selected as the General Rapporteur (his report to the Berlin Ministerial Conference can be found here); the EUA developed its Trends III report and also started the Quality Culture Project in higher education institutions and launched a joint masters programme; ESIB completed several student surveys on the implementation of the Bologna Declaration; the European Commission supported several European projects (the Tuning project, the TEEP project) connected to quality assurance etc.

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Berlin 2003 

At the Berlin Ministerial Conference in September 2003, 7 new countries were accepted into the process (Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Holy See, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”). Thus the total number of countries involved increased to 40. It was also decided that all countries party to the European Cultural Convention are eligible to take part in the Bologna Process provided they apply for accession and submit a satisfactory plan for implementation of the Bologna goals in their higher education system. Apart from taking note of the developments from 2001 to 2003 and setting guidelines for further work, the Berlin Communiqué also concluded:

  • that research is an important part of higher education in Europe and the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area are in fact two pillars of the knowledge based society. Furthermore, it is necessary to go beyond the focus on two main cycles and the third cycle - doctoral studies - should be included in the Bologna process
  • that in time for their 2005 meeting, Ministers will take stock of progress in these key areas:
  • quality assurance;
  • two-cycle system;
  • recognition of degrees and periods of study;
  • the next Ministerial Conference will take place in Bergen in 2005.

The Bologna Follow-Up Group was asked to look into two issues especially:

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Bergen 2005 

At the Bergen Ministerial Conference in May 2005, 5 new countries were welcomed (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) as new participating countries in the Bologna Process bringing the total number of participating countries up to 45. It was also decided to enlarge the circle of consultative members to the Education International (EI) Pan-European Structure, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), and the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe (UNICE). The Bergen meeting confirmed the shift from future plans to practical implementation; in particular it was marked by

  • the adoption of an overarching framework of qualifications for the European Higher Education Area and with a commitment to elaborating national qualifications frameworks by 2010 – as well as to having launched work by 2007;
  • the adoption of guidelines and standards for quality assurance and the request that ENQA, the EUA, EURASHE and ESIB elaborate further proposals concerning the suggested register of quality assurance agencies;
  • the further stress on the importance of the social dimension of higher education, which includes – but is not limited to – academic mobility;
  • the necessity of improving interaction between the European Higher Education Area and other parts of the world (the “external dimension”);
  • the growing importance of addressing the development of the European Higher Education Area beyond 2010.

The Council of Europe addressed the Ministerial meeting’s opening session.

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London 2007 

In London in May 2007, Montenegro was welcomed to the Bologna Process following its declaration of independent in 2006, bringing the number of participating countries to 46. In London, Ministers also:

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Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve 2009 

On April 2009 the Ministerial conference was held in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve. Ministers took stock of developments since the previous conference in London (2007) and above all considered priorities and goals for the European Higher Education Area beyond 2010. In particular, Ministers:

As in London, the Council of Europe addressed the opening session of the Ministerial conference
The Council submitted a report on its activities to further the Bologna Process since the previous ministerial conference.

On 29 April, the first Bologna Policy Forum gathered high ranking representatives of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Tunisia, USA, along with the International Association of Universities. In the statement adopted by the meeting, participants underlined the importance of developing cooperation on a range of policy issues.

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Council of Europe 

When it comes to the contribution of the Council of Europe to the establishment of the European Higher Education Area by 2010, the focus continues to lie on:

  • The Council’s work on the recognition of qualifications, supporting the ENIC Network (together with UNESCO-CEPES) and the Member States in the national implementation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention.
  • Active participation in the steering and policy-making mechanisms (Bologna Follow-Up Group) as well as in the official Bologna seminars (as speakers or general rapporteurs).
  • Advice and assistance to the countries have acceded to the Bologna Process recently in bi-lateral or regional cooperation.
  • Overarching issues such as the public responsibility for higher education and research, higher education governance, the social dimension of higher education and research and the values and roles of higher education and research in modern, complex societies.

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Who participates in the Process? 

Following the London Ministerial Conference, there are 46 countries that are participating in the Bologna process. These are:

  • from 1999: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom;
  • from 2001: Croatia, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Turkey;
  • from 2003: Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Holy See, Russia, Serbia, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”;
  • from 2005: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine;
  • from May 2007: Montenegro.

Apart from the countries (who are all members of the Bologna follow-up group - BFUG), several international organizations are also participating: