Bologna and the states of limbo

What might be done to support higher education systems in regions that are not recognised as states? asks Anne Corbett

July 3, 2014

Another trip, another capital. But the incentives are strong to take the long night flights to and from Yerevan, capital of Armenia. Next year, up to 48 ministers of countries participating in the Bologna Process, and their entourages as well, will meet here to make a decisive choice. The European Higher Education Area is proof that nations across the European region can take measures to make their systems compatible, and maybe even more comparable, without forcibly invoking the law. But can the EHEA be sustained under the framework of the Bologna Process? After 15 years of developing coordination, is Bologna’s work done? Or are there new avenues to explore?

The conference I am attending – that of EURASHE (the European Association of Higher Education Institutions that offer professionally oriented courses) – is an important dry run for the big Bologna occasion. It attracts the Armenian prime minister, as well as the country’s minister of education and the big names in Armenian higher education. It is also a chance to see some of the things that are institutionally ingrained about Bologna and what originality Armenia brings.

Armenia is making a regional issue its contribution to this Bologna phase: what might be done to support higher education systems in the fragile countries that not only had their economies broken in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union but also bear the burden of non-recognition as states. They include the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova and, looming over Armenian politics, the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, disputed to the point of a war with Azerbaijan.

Gayane Harutyunyan, the head of the Bologna Secretariat, speaks with feeling about “the people in the non-recognised countries who need quality higher education more than ever”. This generation of students and academics need to know that they can cross borders with their degrees recognised. So far, with help from the Council of Europe, and backing from Bologna Process co-chairmen, study sessions have been held with senior higher education figures in Moldova and Transnistria.

This may sound a small step. But it seems to me that the initiative is important in two respects. The Bologna framework has helped Armenia to turn a specific national problem, the Karabakh, into the generic problem of non-recognised territories. And Bologna methods ensure that the policy initiatives for higher education such as this have wider buy-in. Ms Harutyunyan’s secretariat will have secured support from all 10 of the revolving Bologna Process co-chairs between 2012 and 2015: the Republic of Ireland and Croatia, Lithuania and Georgia, Greece and Kazakhstan, Italy and the Holy See and, in the run-up to the coming conference, Latvia and Iceland.

Given the huge geopolitical tensions in this part of the world and the narratives of Armenian history emphasising victimhood, it seems a step with creative potential to think of quality higher education as a right from which no individual should be cut off, whatever the stand of their government or their regional overlords. Let us hope the Bologna ministers take a similar stand.

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