Since years before the European Students Movement was created, students have played an important role in shaping the future of our societies. Acting as a positive driver for change, many of the human rights we enjoy today are a result of the actions of students all around Europe. In the past six years we have enhanced our role as a positive force, shaping a European Higher Education Area, which is the reason why I stand in front of you today.
In the twenty five years of our existence, we have realised that European and international processes are increasingly influencing higher education and that students therefore deserve to have a strong representative organisation to make their case on the European level – that is why we have chosen the occasion of our 25th anniversary to change our name to – The European Students’ Union.
We now represent 47 national unions of students in 36 countries and in this way represent more than 11 million students in Europe of all kinds: young, old, black, white, male or female, bachelor, master or doctorate. And that is why it is a great pleasure for me to present you, as one of the first audiences, with our new name.
It is also a pleasure to see so many delegations which all have brought a student, recognising our role in shaping a European Higher Education Area. However, I must also note that we have received many messages that governments are still influencing and pressuring students and their representatives. In the year 2007, we still face the sad situation where not every country is ready to place students in the centre of policy making. One of the shocking results of our survey is that students all over Europe are still struggling to be recognised in national higher education debates.
I am here to tell you what happened to the Bologna Process in the past two years with student eyes. I will not miss this opportunity to also tell you what students believe to be the key challenges for the next ten years.The main message I want to convey today is that we believe that: A future vision, a rekindling of the Bologna aims, is urgently needed.
What makes our survey unique is that it is an honest representation of the views of the students in your countries. Rather than focusing on the issues mentioned in the stocktaking, we have set up our own questions and definitions, which relate to our views. The overall question which we wanted to answer was: How has the Bologna Process changed the reality of students? And although you will see that our maps are slightly redder than some of the other surveys that are presented today, I want to stress that our results are largely compatible with data from the official stocktaking, the Eurydice report, the Trends report, and a recent survey by ENQA. Our data-set comes from national unions of students from 36 countries which have been interviewed through a web-based survey, complemented with face-to-face interviews.
I want to start positively, addressing two key reform areas for students: Student Participation in Quality Assurance and the new building blocks of our curricula – the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.
Quality Assurance is of major importance to us, since it has become the way to directly improve our education, on any level. The other surveys already confirm our findings: major steps are taken to involve students in improving their education as long as something is done with all the surveys that we fill in.
The map I am showing you is much greener than it was before, with 15 countries featuring dark green, involving students at national, institutional and faculty or departmental level. That still leaves many countries with major steps to take, but we have good confidence that our added value is recognised.
Making major improvements of the quality of higher education still means that students have to be properly included in the process as participants rather than clients. Also, the European Register on Quality Assurance Agencies can become an important tool in providing more transparency and recognition of what quality means to us.
We believe that the new building blocks of our curricula, being measured in workload and learning outcomes, being a good tool for recognition and transparency, will allow more students to become mobile. The map I am showing here shows that two thirds of the surveyed countries have the ECTS system in place, with most of the other countries stating that a national credit system similar to ECTS has been implemented.
So our first thoughts are sincere congratulations to almost everyone here. However, a simple glance below the surface tells a different story. ECTS is built up of three main components:
– Measuring workload
– Accumulation of credits
– Learning outcomes
When we take an integral look at those three components, our results are more negative.
Still, there is no country that can claim to have fully implemented ECTS with all its components in all higher education institutions.
Our analysis here is that rather than fundamentally changing our perception of education, structures are being reformed for the sake of structures. Results on the implementation of the three cycle system and other action lines generally support this finding. The paradigm shift we want to make: from an institution or teacher based education to a student centred system has not taken place yet.
The two core areas I want to address today are mobility and social dimension. Not that these are necessarily more important than other areas, indeed: it is our point of view that what matters is an integral implementation of the Bologna action lines. What we are often facing is an a la carte implementation of Bologna as a menu card in a fancy restaurant, where we can choose our favourite three course meal to success. With student eyes however, Bologna is a ten course meal, maybe slightly harder to digest, but jointly reflecting the diversity and complexity of the European kitchen in which we cook the European Higher Education Area.
The Social Dimension
Equal opportunities have always been one of the priorities of the student movement and we are more than happy to see that this topic is slowly becoming a priority area, with the collection of data, and the creation of national action plans. We see that higher education is still reproducing many existing inequalities between for example men and women, by excluding many underrepresented groups.
The past two years have shown us that equal opportunities have been threatened by many reforms directly or indirectly related to the Bologna Process. Although recognising that the social dimension is a broad and transversal action line we have one major concern: the funding gap acting as a ritual mantra is used to excuse governments to demand more funding from students, instead of finding real alternative funding. As you can see, students all over Europe are worried about their social dimension and only some of the countries feature green. Our message is clear: let these countries be an example for the rest of Europe and allow the social dimension to become a concrete action agenda by 2009.
A European Higher Education Area or cannot be sustainable without different cultures meeting each other, without students meeting other students and developing a common understanding of what Europe means to them. As we know from the data which exists, mobility is still only a reality for a small elite and is too often a one way street from East to West Europe.
The main obstacles to mobility are widely known and need to be tackled with urgency. Restricted Visa procedures, lack of recognition, lack of portable loans and grants and additional financial support are those areas where action has to be taken. Moving on mobility means convincing the colleagues in your cabinets that the borders of our countries should not stay the borders of our education programmes. For the Bologna Process to be a success, you have to engage in a public debate on why the concept of Europe is so important and make it a part of every students’ curriculum and life.
Why are we so negative?
The Bologna Process has set out to drastically change the world of higher education through creating a European Higher Education Area. Every student would get the chance to enjoy something European, either in their degrees or by going abroad. The quality of higher education would greatly improve, making institutions accountable to all students. And most importantly, students would get more opportunities to start or finish a degree.
But instead we too often see structures being debated for the sake of structures, implementation of action lines without passion, without a clear vision behind them. The Bologna Process faces the danger of sliding into a technocratic, bureaucratic discourse which threatens so many European processes today. I would like to provoke the leadership in this room to rekindle the Bologna aims, keeping or making the European Higher Education Area a key concern for your upcoming reforms. I cannot stress enough that while we are approaching a deadline in 2010, a future vision of what to do is urgently needed and if you allow me, I would like to draw a student blueprint for that discussion, based on our recently agreed policy position.
The future of higher education should not be based on systems, but on the individuals and thoughts which are present in our societies. Our vision for a Higher Education in the next decade is fundamentally based upon the human right to education. Let me light some of the candles I have brought with me to show how the Bologna Process can be rekindled by a simple action:
Firstly , it is a major challenge to extend globalisation beyond the domain of economics and let it affect higher education in cultural and societal dimensions. Mobility of individuals that extends beyond a small elite should become the spark of a new era of globalisation.
Secondly, We must enable more students and graduates to enter the labour market with a higher education degree. Our focus should be on accessing and completing higher education, improving the socio-economic conditions of students and enable them to find the job they want to have. Serious investments should be made to achieve this aim and let the student population flourish.
Thirdly , Students must be enabled to play their part in research, innovation and knowledge development in responsible higher education institutions. Students, recognised as early stage researchers should be allowed to use new technologies in an early stage and take ideas to a higher level.
And finally, students must be placed in the centre of their higher education institutions and become responsible for the future of themselves and their education. Higher Education should play an active role in stimulating democracy and active citizenship. This paradigm shift should force institutions and curricula to become fully democratic and deliver that what needs to be delivered.
Since our realities and discussions are still far away from this vision, I hope these candles provide students with some extra hope. We do believe that a rekindling of the Bologna aims, a future vision is highly needed.