Vandenbroucke wees er daarbij wel op dat “the integration of the European higher education area is still rather weak and its global potential not yet realised. A considerable number of countries have joined the process later on, and some of them even quite recently, which challenges these countries to catch up with the forerunners. Furthermore, the specific attributes and values we rightly assign to European higher education, presuppose that these values are shared and hence require a strong integrative perspective.”
U leest hieronder zijn rede op het seminar in Gent van 20 mei, waarin hij ingaat op de hoofdlijnen voor de toekomst en ingaat op de betogen van onder meer Frans van Vught en Simon Marginson, de auteur van de veelbesproken OESO-review van het HO in ons land.
In designing the future of the Bologna Process, we first should look at its outcomes and results produced thus far. Taking a view from the distance, one really should acknowledge the impressive achievements of the first ten years of the process. The vision that guided the ministers gathered in Bologna in 1999, inspired by their four colleagues at the time of the Sorbonne Declaration one year before, was to have an integrated higher education area in Europe by 2010, with transparent and readable higher education systems, trustworthy institutions and programmes, and mobile students and professors. That vision was optimistic in the true sense of the word, but also proved to be very mobilising.
The Bologna Process was also unique in constructing a new method of policy-development. Even more than the so-called ‘open method of coordination’, it has set new standards for policy development by its top- down and bottom-up interaction, its active involvement of stakeholders and its ability to generate and mobilise an enormous energy of reform. Seldom, one has seen a comparable societal reform movement endorsed not only by ministers, national governments and supra-national authorities, but also by institutions, academics, staff and students. One can say that Bologna has led to the mobilisation of all relevant social forces in higher education.
When looking into the critical conditions for success of the Bologna Process, besides the ambitious vision and the inclusive nature of the reform process, one should also mention the clarity and relative simplicity of its objectives. The ministers formulated a small number of easily understandable objectives. The Bologna Declaration has set the agenda of reform of European higher education at the right time. Transparency, convergence and mobility were the strategic objectives European higher education needed in order to unlock its potential, to demonstrate its qualities and thus to provide an alternative for an unrestrained global competition.
The Benelux countries have the ambition to start a new process of collective reflection and debate on what should be the objectives for the next ten years of the Bologna Process. By gathering such an excellent group of participants in this Seminar and feeding them with ideas and questions from the higher education research community, we aimed at starting up this process of reflection in the spirit of the network-model of policy development that has proven to be successful over the past years.
This is indeed a start and it is not the time yet for conclusive answers. There is still a long way to go to the Leuven 2009 Ministerial meeting. Yet, a number of provisional statements already can be made on how the strategic objectives for Bologna 2020 should look like.
Before presenting you some ideas on the strategic objectives to be set for 2020, I have to make clear that I really believe that we do need a new phase in the Bologna Process. The work is not finished yet. The structural reforms in degree systems, the accompanying regulatory frameworks in quality assurance and credit-transfer, the cooperation and mobility realised thus far, they all were necessary but they seem now to be only partial answers to the challenges and needs of today’s world. The general sense of the Bologna Process – transparency, convergence, mobility –is still the right one, but it has to be refuelled with new goals and objectives. The integration of the European higher education area is still rather weak and its global potential not yet realised. A considerable number of countries have joined the process later on, and some of them even quite recently, which challenges these countries to catch up with the forerunners. Furthermore, the specific attributes and values we rightly assign to European higher education, presuppose that these values are shared and hence require a strong integrative perspective. Unrestrained competition within Europe and on the global arena is not the best environment for these values to flourish.
Bologna also should be kept in motion because of the movement of change and reform itself. The European Commission has called for a ‘modernisation’ agenda and many governments try to maintain the spirit of reform that is needed in the context of the Lisbon Agenda. Despite all efforts and changes that people have been going through in the first decade of the Bologna Process, the process of reform needs to continue and probably even to be reinforced. Thus, a shared set of values and objectives, a common vision of the future and a collective process of change: that is what European higher education needs in order to unlock its potential.
Strategic objectives for Bologna 2020
What then should be the core concepts of the strategic objectives for Bologna 2020? Transparency certainly should remain the primary core concept. Perhaps, transparency has been the most mobilising concept in the Bologna Process thus far. I believe it also will remain so in the next phase. A lot has been said during the two days of the seminar on increasing complexity and diversity, and most of it is true. We have learnt that heterogeneity and diversity are not the enemies of convergence and integration.
On the contrary, I agree with Frans Van Vught that we should not only see diversity as something which is there, but also deal with it as a real strength. As a spontaneous corollary to the convergence realised in the course of the Bologna process, institutions have differentiated themselves. They show considerable variation in mission and ambitions now. Europe should cherish and celebrate its diversity also in higher education. The future does not lie in everyone pretending to do the same thing, neither in ‘academic’ nor in ‘vocational’ drift. Mission differentiation seems to be a much more promising avenue of development, contributing to the overall performance of the system as a whole.
But in order to really articulate and value diversity, we should reveal its real nature. Diversity cannot be appreciated if it is kept under the veil of ignorance and ambiguity. The next phase of the process towards transparency therefore should invest much more energy in developing instruments to really address diversity and make it readable and understandable for everyone. Well-designed, multidimensional rankings can be a suitable instrument for that. A classification of institutions, comparable to the Carnegie classification in the US, could be another. A realistic assessment of actual learning outcomes perhaps will be yet another. Regulatory frameworks validating institutional diversity should be developed. For not focusing on making diversity transparent, entails a serious risk: the risk of European higher education being an arena of confusion in which the market is organised as a bazaar of undemonstrated reputations. It is not possible to build an attractive European higher education system with a strong collective reputation, if this system is internally not transparent. Thus, transparency of diversity could lead to a new, higher sense of identity and coherence within the European higher education area.
Next to transparency, there is a set of values and ambitions that I would like to summarise in the concept of social responsibility and responsiveness. In her summary of the research papers, Prof. Barbara Kehm stressed that there was no need for differentiation that went so far as developing a binary divide between a mass higher education system of average quality and an excellent system for the elite. Equality of opportunity for education of excellent quality should be acknowledged as a core value of the European higher education system and a condition for its further success. Europe will have to mobilise its full potential and this implies providing opportunities to all talents, especially in those communities where under- participation risks to result in a real waste of talent. The demographic challenges will force us to mobilise all available ‘brain- power’. (Seen from a different angle, one could say that there is no real need to worry about demographic changes, given the actual rate of talent still waiting to be discovered and developed.)
Social responsiveness also requires a new relationship between governments and the public body in general on the one hand, and institutions on the other hand. Institutions rightly ask for more autonomy. I do agree that they need more autonomy in order to liberate their potential. But as Isaiah Berlin taught us about the concept of “liberty”, we should distinguish two concepts of “autonomy”, a negative concept and a positive concept. To be relevant for education policy, “autonomy” should not only be understood in its negative definition, as less government interference. Enhancing autonomy also means: enhancing the capacity to make choices and define strategies, enhancing the capacity to act effectively, and to have impact – in the case of higher education institutions, impact on our society at large.
So conceived, autonomy and regulation are not mutually exclusive concepts. I believe in the positive definition of autonomy, in which regulation is seen as a kind of dialogue between responsible actors for the common good. We should look for a new ‘pact’ between higher education institutions, the political authorities and society at large as an alternative both for traditional political regulation and complete political abdication. The challenges ahead for higher education are so crucial for Europe’s development in general, that conceptualising the state-institution relationships in terms of (negative) autonomy and accountability only, may fall short of what actually needs to be done.
Clarity on what governments and social stakeholders expect from higher education institutions should be one of the first goals of such a dialogue. In the context of the knowledge society the public benefits of higher education are ever more increasing, manifold and far-reaching: a better educated ‘human capital’, up-to-date learning outcomes focusing – as my colleague François Biltgen has stressed – on generic skills preparing for employability in a changing labour market, new qualifications – which Mrs Odile Quintin has argued for –, new flexible learning arrangements, academic excellence focusing on critical inquiry as well as on knowledge transfer, social and cultural criticism as an invaluable contribution to democracy and critical citizenship, etc.
The paradox of policy-making in higher education is that higher education is becoming so crucial to economic, social, cultural and even political development, that governments have no alternative to actively engaging in a critical dialogue with institutions and stakeholders, whereas at the very same moment, the institutions themselves claim more autonomy in order to improve their effectiveness. As for the governments, there should be no hesitation in recognising that the importance of higher education also implies a higher level of funding. I at least have no problem in recognising the validity of the 2%-norm put forward by the European Commission.
The third concept that should, in my view, guide us in formulating the strategic objectives for Bologna 2020, is global attractiveness. I fully endorse what Mrs Odile Quintin has said yesterday and what Simon Marginson has stressed in his research paper on the positive dimension of attractiveness. The question should not be how Europe guards itself against the tides of globalisation or arms itself in the ‘academic arms race’, not even how Europe should organise itself to successfully wage the global war on talent. The question is what Europe can contribute to the global public good. That is where the real attractiveness of European higher education really lies.
Following Marginson, I would like to see the Lisbon Agenda reformulated as aiming at becoming the most ‘creative and globally engaged’ higher education environment and Europe becoming the most ‘innovative’ knowledge society. In redefining our ambitions, we should make clear what Europe’s contribution should be to answering the global challenges. I also fully adhere to the last point Prof. Kehm made, that we should demonstrate the openness of European higher education systems and institutions to the world, rather than establishing a ‘fortress’ against it.
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
I deliberately did not propose clear strategic objectives for the next decade of the Bologna Process. That would be far too early and I am not in the capacity of doing so. A whole process of debate and interaction, leading to a more formal process of development and negotiation, will have to take place in order to put the ministers in the capacity of decision-making.
What we, as Benelux countries, wanted to do, is to start this process by organising this Seminar and subsequent events in the Bologna Process. I took the opportunity to focus on three guiding concepts which could enlighten our road- map towards Leuven 2009. These three concepts emerged out of preliminary work of the higher education research community and, at least to my understanding, are fully in line with the discussions yesterday and today. Many more could be added, but let’s keep in mind that in moving the Bologna Process further, we should focus our energy upon a relatively small number of strategic objectives. Only by focusing, the Bologna Process will keep on mobilising energy and interest, not only in Europe itself but also on a global scale.