UK shuns Europe at its own risk

June 6, 2003

Juliet Lodge understates the UK level of ignorance of, and lack of commitment to, a European higher education area in her analysis of the government white paper (Opinion, THES, May 30).

A briefing paper for last weekend's European Association of Universities convention in Graz notes that "in Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and, most strongly, the UK, deliberations on institutional Bologna reforms are even less widespread than in the other Bologna signatory countries". Students' formal participation in the Bologna process is significantly lower in the UK, as well as in Greece, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Iceland, than in other European states, it says.

Most UK higher education institutions have reported no increase or even a decrease in the number of students going abroad to study in Europe, and the position is little better for staff. "With the exception of Ireland and the UK, in all Bologna process signatory countries, teaching staff mobility has increased at a majority of the higher education institutions," notes the paper by Sybille Reichert and Christian Tauch.

Most depressing is the fact that UK academic awareness of the Bologna process is lower than in any other country, according to rectors'

conferences and the heads of institutions. Other states with low scores include Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden, Germany and Ireland.

European cooperation is a key opportunity for universities across Europe to capitalise on research, as Lodge points out. Many UK universities are very active in creating the European research area. Of the 11,855 expressions of interest submitted to the European Union's Framework 6 programme, 61 per cent came from higher education institutions, with 15 per cent of those from the UK and Germany, followed by Italy (10 per cent) France (9 per cent), Spain (8 per cent) and Poland (7 per cent).

But by failing to acknowledge, let alone engage with, the Bologna process, in the long term UK universities seeking European research money risk undermining their credibility with European partners and, very possibly, the EU grant-awarding bodies.

Terence Karran
Teaching and learning research
University of Lincoln

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