Bologna and further now

Nieuws | de redactie
12 september 2008 | Flemish vice-premier and HE-minister Frank Vandenbroucke put forward his 'post-Bologna' policy vision  and set the agenda for 'Leuven 2009'. His discussions with the European HE-toppeople in Antwerp focused strongly on the value of HE-classification and the developments of serious rankings, as well as on the 'multi-speed EU', which seems to blossom within Europe.

Vandenbroucke’s ideas to put steps forward in the Bologna Process were met with sympathy, not with enthusiasm at the EAIE conference in Antwerp. From South and Eastern Europe, the case was made that countries and universities still need years to adapt to the requirements of the current Bologna Process.

Multispeed HE

In April 2009, the Benelux will host a ministerial conference in Louvain to formally finish the Bologna Process and discuss the future. The most prominent promoter of a sequel to the Bologna Process is the Flemish minister of Education, Frank Vandenbroucke. He finds that subsequent steps are needed concerning transparency of higher education, diversity of the student population and the autonomy of universities.
Vandenbroucke’s argument was received with critical appraisal. Dionyssis Kladis pointed to the mixed record of the Bologna Process. Formerly the Greek Secretary for Higher Education and now a Professor of Higher Education Policy, Kladis has participated in the Bologna Process in various roles.

“Until Berlin 2003, the Bologna Process was quite successful. This was the sub- phase of policy development. There was much bottom- up, so much so that bottom and top were interchangeable. From 2003 till now, we have been in the sub-phase of implementation. In the second sub-phase, I have seen difficulties throughout Europe. The second sub-phase is the most difficult, but also the most important. For now, it comes down to convincing every single professor and indeed every single student. We are making a shift from professor-oriented education to student-oriented education. A massive change of attitude is needed for that. I talk about that to my students every day. What we thus see in Europe is a multispeed higher education area. We should face the challenge how to help universities and countries who are in the second, third and fourth speed”.

Rector Vaclav Hampl of Charles University in Prague has had comparable experiences. “In our part of Europe, we had one tier programs of 5 to 6 years that worked reasonably well. Much work needs to be done to transform that to the bachelor-mastersystem. Therefore, give us a few more years to implement Bologna. We need time to discover its strengths, detect its weaknesses, and perhaps make some improvements”.


The most lively part of the discussion was on rankings. In multidimensional rankings, Vandenbroucke sees much potential for enhancing transparency in higher education. Speaking on behalf of ’11 million students throughout Europe’, ESU-President Ligia Deca reacted with shiver. Quality assurance is good, because criteria are clear and passing them is feasible. Quality assurance therefore needs to be stimulated and is good for building trust. However, stimulating rankings comes down to handing over universities to the whims of the market, she argued.

Pro Rector Mary Ritter of Imperial College stressed her bad experiences with ranking. “The last thing we want is another Shanghai Jiao Tong Ranking. It does distort. In our country, we have a National Student Survey. We have had an incident in which one university emailed to all their students urging them to report good results in the Survey, because if they wouldn’t, their chances on the labour market might be endangered”.

Swiss Consultant Sybille Reichert analyzed where objections against rankings are rightly made. “I am involved in the classification project. I see a lot of misunderstandings there. A good classification system will not only help students, but also university institutions. Because as a result, it will become easier for them to find collaboration partners that fit. Concerning rankings, we see the negative effects of rankings that are only executed in research.  Wouldn’t it be helpful to have rankings in other areas like innovation education and inclusion of people of other backgrounds?”

Flemish Vice-premier Vandenbroucke maintained that multidimensional rankings are needed. “We have two distinguish between the questions whether rankings are desirable and whether they are feasible. I do think rankings are desirable, because the only alternative is a bazaar of undemonstrated reputations, the obscurity of the market. Next to that, there is an important pragmatic issue here of feasibility. I asked a team university experts if it is feasible to produce a ranking that includes social inclusiveness. A team headed by Tony Atkinson looked into that question. Their answer was, “Yes, it is methodologically possible”.

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