Why should American academics care about Bologna?
We share most of Europe’s priorities for higher education.We believe that increased accountability should support responsiblecomparisons of programs and institutions, that students should haveless difficulty in transferring academic credits, that thecredentials we offer should be more easily understood by thepublic, that teaching should be more intentional in the light of aconsensus on outcomes, and that as a nation we should remain highlycompetitive in attracting international students. We have importantinitiatives under way in many of these areas.
But the Bologna Process represents a coordinated commitment to suchreforms that is monitored continually throughout the continent.With one decade of progress to report, Europe can offer us a usefulexample. The issue is not whether we should “import” the BolognaProcess, but whether we can learn from its coherence and sense ofurgency.
Has Bologna lived up to its promise, from a Europeanperspective?
Yes — and no. Without question, Europe has accomplishedmuch since the 1999 Declaration. But fault lines have appeared. Forinstance, implementation of the three-year baccalaureate degree hasdiscouraged greater mobility among undergraduates, as studentschallenged by compact curriculums offered at a faster pace arestaying put.
The recession has not helped, in that changes in the funding ofhigher education, while not part of the Bologna reforms, haveprovoked resistance to the process. And completion of national”qualifications frameworks,” explaining educational attainmentaccording to degree levels, has proved to be more difficult thananticipated.
Bologna will declare victory this spring with the end of its firstdecade and the formal recognition of the European Higher EducationArea. But the fact that the process has now been extended to asecond decade suggests that its promise has been met only partway.
Has the growth in countries participating in Bolognachanged the process?
Decidedly. Through its expansion from the initial group of29 participating countries to the present 46, “from Shannon(Ireland) to Vladivostok (Russia),” the potential of the BolognaProcess to achieve significant higher education reform across theexpanse of two continents has become even more apparent.
But with expansion has come a far greater range of nationaldifferences in higher education governance, in assumptions aboutthe purposes of a college education, and in the depth to whichstructures, schedules, and other conventions are rooted in nationalcultures. Hence the biennial surveys of the reform initiatives,country by country, now suggest increasing disparity from one toanother in progress sought and progress made. Students in Europespeak of an “à la carte” approach to the Bologna initiatives insome countries: focus on some priorities, ignore others.
How does Bologna — to take the title of your book –“challenge” American higher education?
The Bologna Process represents first a challenge by Europeto the United States and the rest of the world.It was conceived and implemented as part of a continentalcommitment to European economic ascendancy, with higher educationas an important means to that end. But Bologna also poses aspecific challenge to American higher education. Europe seeks toattract international students who are now more likely to study inthe United States, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
And Europe seeks to make its own students more competitive on theworld stage. The three-year baccalaureate in Europe challenges usto document more persuasively the value of a four-year degreeoffering the advantages of a liberal education.
And there’s the issue of the mobility of talent, an importantfactor in economic growth. While we continue to increaseout-of-state tuitions at public universities, discouraging studentsfrom crossing state lines to secure a college education, Europe isprompting its students to “study abroad” within Europe. Above all,Bologna has challenged U.S. higher education by pursuing prioritiesthat are ours as well and by making more progress towards achievingthem.
Given the diversity of American higher education, how couldBologna principles be applied in the United States? Should they beapplied?
Well, Europe presents no less broad a range ofinstitutional types, degree designations, and assumptions about whoshould be educated and for what reasons. The Bologna Processrepresents precisely a commitment to surmount those disparities infavor of higher education that is more easily understood, moreaccountable to the public, more intentional with regard to itsoutcomes, and more attractive to the world’s scholars andstudents.
But, no, while there is much we can learn from Bologna’s example,we cannot and should not simply adopt its initiatives as our own.However, as your question suggests, there are importantprinciples behind a coordinated continent-wide effort thatexpresses a compelling sense of urgency.
We would be wise to observe those principles: agree on a smallnumber of compelling priorities that serve both students and thenational interest, commit to the urgent pursuit of such prioritiesaccording to a carefully monitored and documented process, andsustain a commitment to priorities that may take longer thananticipated to accomplish.
But we can improve on Bologna. Our commitment to diversity in itsother sense, the value we place on the pursuit of learning within amulticultural environment, gives us an advantage on the worldstage. And our high regard for the outcomes of a liberal education– intellectual agility, the capacity for continued learning, anability to work with others, a sense of civic responsibility –stands us in good stead. Attentive to the distinct values ofAmerican higher education, we should learn from the Bologna Processbut endeavor to go it one better.
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