Letter: A cooperative process

June 1, 2001

Your leader, "Bologna offers Eurosceptics a poor poll target", ( THES , May 25) judges the process of trying to form a boundary-free space for higher education in Europe solely in terms of its being risk-free for the United Kingdom.

The mantra is that Britain is in a strong position to face the Europe-wide freedom of movement that the process implies. Our universities will still draw other European academics and students because of the English language. And thank goodness the process is not more ambitious, for otherwise it would upset Eurosceptics.

This is not very far from the view of the Department for Education and Employment. But it seems odd for The THES not to display some curiosity as to why most of the 32 ministers of higher education meeting in Prague, and their rectors' bodies and students' associations, see the process as one of cooperation, not just crude competition.

You say that the key to the process is that it imposes efficient English-style three-year degrees on inefficient continentals. But there is a much more convincing reading of the Bologna commitment to a division between undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

The process makes the masters' phase a fruitful stage for study in another European country and language. It also opens other bridges between national systems. The aim is to strengthen European universities collectively to counter the pull of the United States and to foster a greater sense of intellectual Europe. To this end, most university players in Europe are working to dismantle barriers by 2010 so that all students and academics, not just the favoured few, can gain from study abroad.

You would do more to contribute to the issue if you were to discuss why Britain is such a laggard in the Europeanisation process, as reflected in the tiny numbers of British students who show any interest in other parts of Europe. You could look at whether the funding system has been a barrier to cooperation and a drag on language learning.

At the same time, you could try to encourage the next government to talk about universities primarily as institutions for the creation and sharing of knowledge, and only secondarily as money machines.

Anne Corbett
London SW5

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