The Bologna Process is a series of ministerial meetings and agreements between European countries to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher-education qualifications. The process has created the European Higher Education Area under the Lisbon Recognition Convention. It is named after the University of Bologna, where the Bologna declaration was signed by education ministers from 29 European countries in 1999. The process was opened to other countries in the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe, and governmental meetings have been held in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005), London (2007), Leuven (2009), Budapest-Vienna (2010), Bucharest (2012), Yerevan (2015) and Paris (2018).
What is the Bologna Process?
It established the European Higher Education Area to facilitate student and staff mobility, to make higher education more inclusive and accessible, and to make higher education in Europe more attractive and competitive worldwide.
As part of the European Higher Education Area, all participating countries agreed to:
- introduce a three-cycle higher education system consisting of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies
- ensure the mutual recognition of qualifications and learning periods abroad completed at other universities
- implement a system of quality assurance, to strengthen the quality and relevance of learning and teaching
Why is the Bologna Process important?
Under the Bologna Process, European governments engage in discussions regarding higher education policy reforms and strive to overcome obstacles to create a European Higher Education Area.
Bologna reform is key to building the necessary trust for successful learning mobility, cross-border academic cooperation and the mutual recognition of study periods and qualifications earned abroad. Enhancing the quality and relevance of learning and teaching is also a core mission of the Bologna Process. Implementation of these reforms is, however, uneven across the 48 participating countries.
The Bologna Process also provides a forum for dialogue with neighbouring countries regarding higher education reforms and questions related to shared academic principles, such as the independence of universities and the participation of students in civil society activities. It has become an important space for soft diplomacy with neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans (with the exception of Kosovo), Eastern Partnership countries, Turkey and Russia, as well as many other countries.
What is the EU doing to support higher education reform?
Since the launch of the Erasmus programme some 30 years ago, the Commission, together with national authorities, higher education institutions, students and other stakeholders, triggered more intense and structured cooperation among European higher education institutions.
As the demand for student mobility grew rapidly, it became clear how difficult it was for single institutions to recognise periods of study across different national higher education systems with divergent degree structures and different academic traditions.
The Bologna Process, starting with the Sorbonne and Bologna Declarations, was the response of national governments to the challenges arising from the mobility of European students and graduates.
The Commission is a full member of the Bologna Follow-up Group and its board, which supports the implementation of the decisions of the Bologna Ministerial Conferences.
Much progress has been made in reforming higher education systems in EU Member States and beyond, as indicated by regular implementation reports.
Education Ministers have also adopted the Paris Communiqué highlighting priority activities in this area for the coming years. The Communiqué outlines the joint vision of education ministers from 48 European countries for a more ambitious European Higher Education Area by 2020.
It calls for:
- an inclusive and innovative approach to learning and teaching
- for integrated transnational cooperation in higher education, research and innovation
- for securing a sustainable future through higher education
In addition, the Communiqué outlines the need for better support to enable vulnerable and underrepresented and groups to access and excel in higher education. These ambitions are in line with the goal of the EU to create a European Education Area by 2025, to promote mobility and the academic recognition of qualifications for all EU citizens.
The next Ministerial Conference of the Bologna Process will take place in June 2020, in Rome.
For more information on the role of the EU in the development of the Bologna Process and its progress towards the creation of a European Higher Education Area, see the brochure The EU in support of the Bologna Process.
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