Bologna on course but not plain sailing

April 8, 2005

Professional associations, students and international organisations sounded a note of caution about the general optimism over the pace and direction of the Bologna Process, write David Jobbins and Olga Wojtas.

A study for the European University Association of the latest status of the process may be over-optimistic, warned Monique Fouilhoux, education and employment coordinator at Education International, a federation of 340 education unions in 165 countries.

Ms Fouilhoux suggested that the institutions in the Trends IV report might have been more advanced and positively disposed to the process. While her members agreed that Bologna's impact was positive overall, staff were still faced with extra demands without extra resources. "This trend cannot continue without inflicting permanent damage on higher education," she said.

A final version of the report will be put before ministers in Bergen in May. But the draft, based on 62 visits to higher education institutions in 29 countries, claims that the Bologna reforms are being addressed at all levels in a majority of universities.

"European universities have done more than join the Bologna Process," the report concludes. "They have adopted it and, in the implementation phase, are now sharing the ownership. The European Higher Education Area is becoming a reality and has a good chance of becoming a very attractive one."

But student leaders attacked the perception that Bologna was simply serving the growth and employment imperatives of the Lisbon agenda. Katja Kamsek of ESIB, the National Unions of Students in Europe, said: "Higher education should never become the instrument of mere economic purposes. Universities should always be on the front line of the defence of democratic values."

She was pleased that Trends IV sought a student-centred approach to the two-cycle system, but said this was impossible where there was no student involvement in discussions.

"In the majority of countries, students are not involved in external or internal quality assurance," she said. Funding barriers were a major obstacle to student mobility, she added.

Goolam Mohamedbhai, president of the International Association of Universities, welcomed the "public good" aspect of universities recognised by education ministries involved in Bologna.

But he warned: "This is not what is happening in other parts of the world, where governments fail to recognise the important role that universities play in economic development and take the view that higher education is more of a private good. I fear that the Bologna reforms could lead to an isolation of institutions in some parts of the world."

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