The Bologna Process of convergence of higher education systems across Europe is largely on track but more resources are needed to ensure that its universities keep up with the rest of the world, according to the four former education ministers who signed the Sorbonne Declaration in 1998.
The former ministers of Italy, France, Germany and the UK, whose agreement paved the way for the 1999 Bologna Declaration, were in Rome to receive honorary degrees from RomaTre University and to look back on the past five years.
Under Bologna, 29 European nations undertook to bring about harmonisation of higher education by 2010. It is based on internationally recognised credits and a three-plus-two-year degree system (bachelors and masters), leading to mutual recognition of standards and titles with increasing mobility of students and teachers.
But the ministers said more money must be spent on universities for teaching and research to allow Europe to compete with the rest of the world.
Baroness Blackstone, former British Higher Education Minister, was still optimistic: "There is a continued commitment to the Bologna Process, and it has effectively put an end to an era in which we were too inward-looking. I think we'll get there by 2010."
Jurgen Ruttgers, Germany's former Higher Education and Research Minister, said: "What began as an agreement among ministers is now a grassroots phenomenon. In Germany, 340,000 students have chosen the three-plus-two path, and the rest will follow."
Claude All gre, France's former Minister of Education and Research, said: "The process is under way, now we must try to accelerate, and Europe must spend more money. We should be... thinking in terms of doubling our resources."
Luigi Berlinguer, former Italian Education Minister, was the most analytical: "There was the first phase of unbridled optimism, then a second phase in which we ran into problems, a third in which it was realised that the Bologna Process must also adapt to diversity, and then a fourth in which opposition... reared its head. But the process continues... it is now irreversible."
The next few months are critical for the process as the European Universities Association prepares for its convention in Glasgow in March before ministers meet in Bergen, Norway, in May.