Bologna progress slow for former Soviet states

April 1, 2005

Belarus, under pro-Russian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, remains the only European nation where the official attitude to the Bologna Process of convergence between university systems ranges from indifference to hostility.

When education ministers from the Bologna nations meet in Bergen, Norway, next month to review progress, former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan will be pressing their case.

But Belarus was not invited. Its record of institutional autonomy and student participation has damaged its prospects of involvement. Last year, Belarus was cautioned by the Dutch European Union presidency and condemned by the Council of Europe over the closure of the European Humanities University in Minsk.

In neighbouring Ukraine, even reformist President Viktor Yush-chenko is facing difficulties. His call for a road map for harmonisation with Bologna to be completed by the end of this year is meeting opposition.

But Oleg Rybachuk, Deputy Premier with responsibility for European Integration, admitted, during a visit to the London School of Economics in February, that the gerontocrats running the National Academy of Sciences are likely to prove uncooperative.

The Ukrainian Government wants to integrate the academy's research sector with that of the universities. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when central funding ended and many projects ground to a halt, the academy has been leasing out its facilities to commercial concerns. Thirteen years on, its leadership is reluctant to lose this source of income.

In Georgia - Ukraine's predecessor in democratic revolution - reform is equally controversial. In December 2004, legislation aimed at bringing Georgia into the Bologna Process by the end of the decade was criticised as "anti-Georgian" and "likely to produce a generation of ignorance" by opponents ranging from members of parliament and academics to student demonstrators and villagers.

Reformist Education Minister Kakha Lomaia plans to break with the Soviet tradition of learning by rote, among other changes. This has shocked some Georgian academics, as has his plan to reduce corruption in universities by bringing entrance examinations under a single authority.

In Moldova, where elections have just endorsed a system that is ideologically communist and pragmatically eager to collect the material benefits offered by Europe, commitment to Bologna is a relatively minor part of the pro-Europe package. But one practical step at university reform has already been introduced - the replacement of the Soviet-style five-and-a-half-year course with a four-year bachelors course followed by a masters.

In Bosnia, moves towards convergence stalled last year, resulting in the loss of substantial World Bank funding. But, three weeks ago, the education ministers of the Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation and Croatia met to "share experiences" on implementing the Bologna criteria.

Croatia's problems with EU accession, derived from a failure to locate suspected war criminal Ante Gotovina, have not weakened its commitment to Bologna.

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