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Bologna Process Implementation Report: An interview with our authors

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Bologna Process Implementation Report: An interview with our authors

02 July 2024
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Eurydice News

The new Bologna Process Implementation report has been recently published. It examines the latest policy commitments and their implementation in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). You can read the full report here  The European Higher Education Area in 2024: Bologna Process Implementation Report (europa.eu). We have asked David Crosier, Olga Davydovskaia, Anna Horvath, Daniela Kocanova, Snejina Nikolova, the authors of the report, to answer a few questions regarding the publication.

 

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is based on shared policy commitments and their implementation. What are these policy commitments and how far are the countries/educational systems in the process of implementing these commitments?

 

This is a big question! But essentially the EHEA was established in 2010 after a decade of preparatory work to implement the 1999 Bologna Declaration. The idea was to establish a European higher education area that is open and accessible facilitating mobility and internationalisation. For this to happen the main requirements were that degree structures were aligned to the Bachelor, Master, PhD model, that trustworthy quality assurance systems were put in place in every country and that students would have their qualifications fairly recognised based on the principles of the Lisbon Recognition Convention. Since these key commitments were made, other policies have been added along the way, as the Ministers responsible for higher education meet every 2 – 3 years to set priorities for European higher education. For example, there are now formal commitments related to equity and inclusion, based on adopted Principles and Guidelines for the Social Dimension of the EHEA, on learning mobility, and on fundamental values of European higher education.

 

The question of how far countries have implemented agreed commitments varies according to each commitment. There are some policy commitments where most aspects have been implemented in most countries: this certainly applies to the key commitments related to degree structures, quality assurance systems and recognition. But there are other areas where there has been little progress, and equity and inclusion would feature there.

 

The EHEA also agreed on six fundamental values which are the following: academic freedom, academic integrity, institutional autonomy, student and staff participation, and public responsibility for and of higher education. How have countries within the EHEA incorporated and defined these values in their own education systems and national legislations?

 

We are at the early stages of developing appropriate system-level monitoring of fundamental values, so it’s too early to answer this question in full. Fundamental values, however, have now been defined in agreed statements that were adopted in the Tirana Conference, and our report looks at how values are incorporated in national legislative frameworks. This is already quite a complex issue, as values may or may not be mentioned in various acts of legislation - the Constitution, higher education legislation or in other legislation that impact on higher education. But beyond this, the concepts may also be defined in a way that is not aligned with the EHEA statements and that may create some limitations. There is considerable work to do to understand legislation, and for each country to bring it in line with the EHEA statements.

 

However, even when this information is clear, it can tell only half the story, as the critical thing is whether and how these values are exercised in the life of the higher education community. And to assess that there is a need to collect information that goes beyond legislation and looks at the experience of students and academics across European societies. Do they consider that they are able to benefit from academic freedom in all their activities? Are the systems for dealing with violations of values clear, accessible and trustworthy? Do members of the academic community receive training on fundamental values? These are just examples of the kind of questions that would be relevant to a policy agenda that is evolving in a complex political reality.

 

How are countries faring in terms of EHEA’s social dimension policy?

 

Social dimension policy commitments were adopted in 2020 in Rome in the Principles and Guidelines to Strengthen the Social Dimension of Higher Education in the EHEA,. Since then, Eurydice has developed indicators that are based on the wording of these guidelines, and hence we can assess country performance in relation to their commitments.

 

Overall, there is a long way to go. EHEA education systems have generally implemented some strategic measures, even if the approaches can differ substantially, ranging between mainstream and targeted policies, and more centralised and decentralised approaches. However, there is a need for greater strategic commitment in almost all education systems.

 

The principles with the highest degree of implementation are related to sustainable funding for equity, inclusion and diversity in higher education, and to guidance and counselling provision. All EHEA education systems provide some form of financial support to higher education students, and there are only two countries/systems with no academic or career guidance provision. However, the indicators do not assess whether provision – of services and funding – is effective.

 

EHEA countries/systems also do relatively well in monitoring and data collection as well as in enabling flexible learning conditions. At the same time, education systems could do more to collect data on the completion of first-year students in the first cycle, and to establish legal frameworks allowing access to higher education through the recognition of prior learning.

 

The principles with the lowest level of implementation are on international mobility and policy dialogue. The result concerning mobility is particularly disappointing, as the need to support disadvantaged learners in mobility programmes has been on the EHEA policy agenda for more than a decade.

 

How have higher education institutions supported the Ukrainian academic community?

 

It is important to recognise that the European higher education sector has played an important role in supporting the Ukrainian academic community. Mostly this has been done through adapting existing support mechanisms that were already in place to support international or refugee students. Financial support to students in the form of grants has been the most widespread action, while systems have also offered language learning support, guidance and counselling services and simple recognition processes to ensure that previous learning is properly valorised. Across the continent, higher education institutions have stepped up to this challenge, and can be proud of their actions. 

 

Author: Lili Szücs

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