Major milestone on our road to reform

April 1, 2005

The Glasgow convention offers a vital opportunity to assess progress and to plan for the future, argues Eric Froment

The changing role of universities is a topic of intense debate at national and European level. Universities are asked to contribute to the knowledge society by accommodating a growing number and variety of learners and by producing innovative research. At the same time, national and international competition is being felt by virtually all European higher education institutions.

We are at the halfway point of the Bologna Process and the creation of a European Higher Education Area in 2010. Broad Europe-wide reforms include degree-structure transformation and a shift to a learner-centred approach.

Tools to help reach these goals are being developed, notably the European Credit Transfer System, the Diploma Supplement and new proposals for an overarching European qualifications framework.

In the past five years, people have become more aware and accepting of the Bologna
reforms as their implementation has progressed. But this must be seen in the wider context of globalisation, internationalisation and the emergence of the higher-education market. The European University Association’s convention in Glasgow, Strong Universities for Europe , will allow 600 higher-education leaders, policymakers and students to make recommendations to enable universities to meet these conflicting demands.

The convention, which runs from March 31 to April 2 at Strathclyde University, is the culmination of the EUA’s work over the past two years for and with its members. The discussions will build on the outcomes of past EUA work and address key issues, starting from the context in which universities function. This means exploring the institution’s role in maintaining core values in a rapidly changing environment and developing partnerships with stakeholders at local, national, European and international level.

The event will also examine the multiple missions of the university (teaching, research and service to society) while identifying opportunities to strengthen those roles in fostering the link between teaching and research, improving the training of young researchers and introducing educational reforms. Finally, Strong Universities for Europe will discuss quality assurance and funding and examine the impact of national and European practices on institutions.

As an empirical basis for these discussions, the EUA will present the first findings of its report on the state of European universities: Trends IV 2005. Trends IV builds on Trends III , which was based on research carried out two years ago that found great disparity in progress towards meeting the aims of the Bologna Process.

Trends IV presents qualitative research based on site visits to 60 institutions in 28 countries. It reveals the common challenges that the Bologna reforms and global trends present for institutions.

It is significant that two European Commissioners Janez Potocnik (science and research) and Ján Figel (education) are keynote speakers. Their participation underscores universities’ role in developing higher education and research policy at European level, while the presence of 600 European and international participants shows the significance of the convention.

The outcome of the Glasgow discussions will feed into a Glasgow Declaration to be presented to European education ministers in Bergen in May to help them assess Bologna Process progress and agree a two-year action plan. The declaration must reflect a strong, clear message from the higher education community. The EUA intends to send a signal that institutions have the commitment to confront challenges and implement reforms. The convention’s success depends on the engagement of Europe’s higher-education leaders, who must seize this opportunity to make their collective voice heard.

Eric Froment is president of the European University Association, which represents more than 750 individual higher education institutions and 34 National Rectors’ Conferences in 45 countries across Europe.

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