Deft diplomacy keeps the Bologna Process together

Bringing Belarus into the fold has required behind the scenes manoeuvring, but has left the organisation stronger as a result, says Anne Corbett

June 25, 2015
From Where I Sit illustration (25 June 2015)

The ninth Bologna Process ministerial meeting, hosted by the Armenian government, was held recently in the capital city of Yerevan, in conjunction with the fourth Bologna Policy Forum of interested third countries. In between being feasted in effervescent Armenian style, the ministerial delegations had to work for 24 hours to sign off a communiqué confirming their decisions and setting the work programme agenda to be completed by the next ministerial meeting in France in 2018.

The conventional wisdom is that Bologna no longer interests ministers and that its business can be left to technocrats and stakeholders. Of the 48 Bologna ministerial delegations present, about 20 were headed by civil servants or university rectors, rather than ministers. But it was ministers who were needed to resolve a diplomatic dilemma.

The Russian Federation was there in full panoply with its minister to support the admission of Belarus to the European Higher Education Area. The topic does raise some questions. The Belarus government decides, for example, which students can study abroad.

For months there have been behind the scenes moves supporting the Belarus candidacy. The Bologna Follow-up Group has well-placed officials and sympathetic chairs who believe that doors should be opened to authoritarian regimes and fragile states. They argue that the desire of governments to improve their higher education systems means that Bologna’s experience and technical know-how provide bargaining power and a chance to transmit democratic values.

It was a dramatic diplomatic moment at Yerevan when Norway, leading the bargaining on a deal for Belarus’ conditional membership, secured agreement. Belarus is admitted conditional to implementing structural reforms in quality assurance and other areas in time for the 2018 ministerial conference, along with other reforms in areas such as facilitating staff and student mobility.

Whether or not Belarus accepts help to achieve these goals, its progress will be monitored and evaluated at the next Bologna meeting.

That commitment has a significance beyond Belarus. For the first time, the Bologna Process distinguishes between members deemed to be satisfactory and unsatisfactory. The countries that, in the words of the communiqué, undermine “the functioning and credibility of the whole EHEA” may be excluded from reputational rewards at the next conference.

As well as approving some revised instruments for recognition and quality assurance and better support of professional higher education, the communiqué is in favour of automatic recognition of degrees from EHEA countries by Bologna members.

Pressure to use Bologna as a platform to enhance learning is also reflected in the communiqué. Bologna ministers have agreed that academic and other practitioners should be involved in the Bologna work programmes.

In the corridors around the meeting, that was welcomed. Several junior members of delegations from the Bologna periphery (and from Belarus) told me how much their personal and professional position has been strengthened by access to Bologna’s cross-national networks.

By sticking to the Bologna principle of working for compatibility rather than uniformity, Armenia hands over to France a process that has life in it yet.

Anne Corbett is an associate of the London School of Economics and author of Universities and the Europe of Knowledge (2005).

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Article originally published as: Deft diplomacy keeps the Bologna Process together (25 June 2015)

Reader's comments (1)

You want to bring Belarus from the cold and into the towers of Bolognia while there is active fire on Ukraine, how is that baby steps to civilisation? I say these silly workshops in the meetings must stop.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Professor-Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Senior Procurement Officer UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Clinician, Small Animal Emergency Services UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Director COVENTRY UNIVERSITY COLLEGE

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016