As her country prepares to host the key ministerial meeting in May, Kristin Clemet, Norway’s Education Minister, tells David Jobbins about her vision
The Bologna Process is dominated by the year 2010 - the target date for convergence between the 40 or so European nations that have signed up to become part of the European Higher Education Area.
May’s ministerial meeting in Bergen, Norway, is billed as an opportunity to take stock and assess the pace of progress so far. But Kristin Clemet, Norway’s Minister of Education and Research, is eager to look beyond 2010. “This is a good time to start a more strategic discussion on the future of the area, given that we reach most of the goals in 2010. What shape should this area take? How can we maintain the progress and secure a future dynamism after 2010?”
She is also keen to see initiatives to strengthen the area’s external relations. “We should aim at an area being more open and attractive, but at the same time underline its obligations to development in higher education and research in our poorer neighbouring regions. We should discuss action to meet the concerns I have heard from African countries: that we are building a Fortress Bologna.”
So Bergen promises more than a dull recitation of degrees of compliance with Bologna. But the details are, of course, important. Ms Clement says: “We will concentrate on the way the action lines are being implemented by taking stock of the achievements, instead of introducing new goals for the process.”
Those achievements are in the detail: the introduction of an overarching European qualifications framework; the flurry of higher education laws to meet Bologna expectations; the creation of quality assurance mechanisms that regulate without impeding national and institutional autonomy; the adoption of the Diploma Supplement to make mobility across
national borders a reality.
Ms Clement is cautiously optimistic: “I feel the process is developing very satisfactorily.
“Reforms have been undertaken in most countries, especially on the two-cycle system and quality assurance. But we will have to wait for the results of the stocktaking process before we draw more precise conclusions.”
Bologna had a pivotal role in the reforms introduced by Norway’s Conservative Government after the party’s victory over the socialists in 2001. A revised Higher Education Act has opened the way for joint degrees and study programmes and for a national qualifications framework. “The reforms have been implemented in close dialogue with all partners in higher education - institutions, students and staff - as a national parallel to the international process,” Ms Clemet says.
“We still want to increase the student and staff mobility, especially to continental Europe. We want to improve quality in both higher education and research, and I think internationalisation is an important tool to this end.” But despite the reforms, there are specific challenges for Norway. “These are linked to the fact that we are a small country, with a language not widely spoken [abroad] and where internationally advanced research and development can take place in only a few fields or disciplines. We must foster a system where quality still meets international benchmarks, which contributes internationally where we are strong, and at the same time maintains the institutions’ national, cultural and societal responsibilities.”
Arguing against compromising the process by insisting on rigid structures and regulations, Ms Clemet says there are good prospects for the target date being met across all partner states.
“For example, we observe how the Bologna goals have contributed to reform agendas in most countries, even in the new applicant countries. So I think we must keep that ambition. The process should assist all participants in their efforts.”
She is convinced that Bologna poses no threat to academic quality and institutional efficiency, and she is confident that the strong and varied national and institutional traditions across Europe that have strengthened universities through diversity can be retained. “The framework should be a tool to facilitate mobility and employability without introducing rigid regulations.”
So has the EHEA the potential to compete with the US as an international provider of undergraduate and postgraduate education and research? “We should see the EHEA in connection with the European Research Area. If we make progress towards reaching the common goals, I believe that Europe may strengthen its position vis-à-vis, for example, the US. There are already signs of better competitiveness when it comes to research training,” Ms Clemet says.