Shared vision results only in difference and indifference

Academic claims that Bologna has become a 'mission impossible'. Hannah Fearn reports

November 18, 2010

The Bologna Process has become a "mission impossible", unintentionally creating a more diverse European academy with greater barriers to student and academic movement instead of binding its countries together.

That is the view of German academic Helmut de Rudder, emeritus professor at the University of Luneburg, who sets out his concerns in a paper published in the journal Higher Education Review.

Professor de Rudder claims that Bologna has suffered from "programmatic overload and over-expansion of its realm" and, as a result, has "questionable legitimacy".

"By finally encompassing virtually all fields and aspects of higher education reform it becomes a 'mission impossible'," he says.

Professor de Rudder argues that it is not easy to assess what has been achieved in the past decade because the process has expanded so rapidly in size and remit.

There are now 47 countries involved in Bologna. Some 29 signed the original declaration in 1999.

The paper, titled "Mission accomplished? Which mission? The Bologna Process", says this raises the question of "what kind of common higher education policy 47 ministers, who represent countries as different as can be, can possibly agree on".

Meanwhile, the trend towards greater institutional autonomy means diversity among European universities has increased, making it harder for students to transfer between different institutions within one country, let alone between Bologna member states.

"In all likelihood, we have 47 Bolognas, each one a special case," the paper argues. "If this was a big manufacturing enterprise, a consultant would probably say: reduce your range of products and concentrate on fewer but more homogeneous markets."

The publication of the paper coincides with a study commissioned by the European University Association that found that the implementation of quality assurance across Bologna countries has also led to greater diversity.

Although 93 per cent of universities have tackled the issue of quality assurance, two-thirds have designed "institution-specific" quality frameworks for teaching and learning.

More than half these (64 per cent) make the rector or vice-rector ultimately responsible for quality assurance, but "there is no one size fits all solution", the study says.

Unlike the UK, Germany did not have a two-tier system (three-year bachelor's degrees, followed by master's and doctorates) at the outset of Bologna, and the country is now reportedly "reform-weary".

According to Professor de Rudder's analysis, the introduction of Bologna and a modular higher education system led to "chaos of many kinds in most German institutions". Statistics show that completion rates have fallen with the new bachelor's programme, and mobility within the first cycle of higher education is also down.

Professor de Rudder also argues that the 2010 deadline for developing the European Higher Education Area was "unrealistic from the beginning".

"It is now developing into an endless process," he says.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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