Boring image is holding back Bologna

May 4, 2007

The language of the Bologna Process and even the name itself are a turn-off and may be hampering efforts to increase academic engagement in the initiative, according to MPs, writes Rebecca Attwood.

A report issued this week by the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee says terms that have been used throughout the Bologna initiative, such as "Diploma Supplement," have served only to put people off what the committee believes is otherwise a good process. "The committee have repeatedly found that the language used within the Bologna Process (and the name itself) has obscured meaning in an unhelpful manner," the MPs say.

Responding to the report, Boris Johnson, Shadow Higher Education Minister, said: "Perhaps the most useful thing the Bologna Process could do now would be to launch an international crusade against bunkum."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said:

"Politicians and select committees are not immune to being criticised for using off-putting or confusing language, so when they suggest the Bologna Process is afflicted with the same malaise it is probably worth taking notice.

"We hope these comments will be taken into consideration to allow UK academics, and the general public, to grasp a better understanding of what should be a very important debate about the future of international higher education."

The MPs called for more UK engagement with Bologna, which aims to improve the comparability and compatibility of higher education qualifications across the 45 countries involved and thereby encourage greater mobility of both students and staff.

"Many academics do not appear to have a high level of engagement with the Bologna Process... Bologna does not feature prominently on the agendas of councils, senates and faculty boards or, apparently, in common-room conversation," the report says.

The MPs say the Government is not seen to be sufficiently proactive, and the report calls on the Government to raise awareness and involvement across the sector.

But the committee's primary concern is what it describes as the expanding role and influence of the European Commission, which it warns could lead to increased bureaucracy, centralised control and conformity.

The success of Bologna depends upon it remaining a "bottom-up" voluntary initiative with active participation from universities and colleges, the report says. Barry Sheerman, chairman of the committee, said: "I am deeply concerned about the expanding influence of the European Commission. The role of the Commission must be constrained if the Bologna Process is to be successful."

The MPs also urge the Government to address their conclusion that the European Credit Transfer Scheme is "not fit for purpose". As it is currently based on hours studied rather than outcomes achieved, the committee says the scheme could undermine the value of British one-year masters degrees and four-year integrated masters degrees.

The committee also says more effort must be made to increase the number of UK students studying abroad. It recommends more flexible, short-term study options in addition to the year abroad.

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