Much to be done
“Last month’s Bologna Process Ministerial Conference inBucharest brought together ministers responsible for highereducation from the 47 European countries that now participate inthis voluntary process, together with key stakeholder organisationsincluding the European University Association (EUA).
The Bologna Ministerial Conferences (seven have been held sincethe launch of the Bologna Process in 1999) are designed to takestock of progress towards the “Bologna” objectives and to set goalsfor the future development of a European Higher Education Area.EUA’s work has shown that over the last decade, universities acrossEurope have implemented the overwhelming majority of structuralreform elements agreed under Bologna – such as a common three-cycledegree system (bachelor, master, and doctorate), credit transfersystems, and the European diploma supplement. With the launch ofthe European Higher Education Area (in 2010), the seconddecade now aims to build on these reforms in order to achieve theunderlying aims such as increasing mobility and employability ofgraduates, improving quality of teaching and learning, anddeveloping lifelong learning.
Universities as strategic motors of regionaldevelopment
It is clear however, that the economic climate that prevailedduring the first years of this higher education reform process haschanged radically in recent years with the onset on the economicand financial crisis. This is why a key aspect of the conference inBucharest was also to underline the critical role of highereducation in helping Europe out of the present crisis and inenhancing the employability of Europe’s graduates.
Europe’s strength is that it has a large number of universitiesand other higher education institutions (over 4,000) with differenttraditions, missions and specific profiles. This is a competitiveadvantage and gives universities the opportunity to becomestrategic motors of local and regional development. This is why EUAstressed to Ministers that more than ever in the presentchallenging times that renewed efforts by all partners are neededto make sure that a strong European Higher Education Area (EHEA)becomes a reality for students, teachers and administrators inuniversities across Europe.
HE is an investment in Europe’s future
In particular, EUA, together with a number of otherstakeholders, argued strongly for a firm commitment in the finalcommuniqué (the political roadmap adopted at the end of eachministerial conference) to recognition of the crucial role ofsustainable public funding for European higher education.Therefore, we are pleased that this document stresses that highereducation should be at the “heart of our efforts to overcome thecrisis” and we urge governments now to follow up on the commitment”to securing the highest possible level of public funding forhigher education and drawing on other appropriate sources, as aninvestment in our future”.
Funding of higher education should not be seen by Europeangovernments as expenditure but as an investment for Europe’sfuture. It is also important for the future of the Europeanknowledge economy that higher education should not only be seen interms of providing employability skills for graduates but also interms of its key role in providing research-based teaching andlearning in a supportive environment that promotes critical andindependent thinking.
The Bucharest Communiqué also underlines that further effortsare required to widen overall access to higher education, raisecompletion rates, strengthen the link between teaching andresearch, and to improve mobility.
Support mobility financially
EUA and other stakeholders have actively called for efforts toimprove mobility (for both students and staff) in Europe and we arepleased that ministers in Bucharest also adopted a separatemobility strategy for the European Higher Education Area. Thiselaborates on the target agreed at the 2009 ministerial conference,whereby at least 20% of those graduating in Europe in 2020 shouldhave spent a study or training period abroad.
In moving to implementation of this strategy, universities willplay a key role in driving mobility but increased governmentalsupport will also be required in terms of funding (for mobilityprogrammes) and in terms of removing the barriers that currentlyprevent many staff and students in Europe from becoming more mobile(such as portability of loans/pensions).
The Bologna Process has been one of the success stories inhigher education over the last decade, and the European HigherEducation Area which has been created is increasingly recognisedand taken as an example in other world regions. However, it iscrucial now that we look forward as there is still much unfinishedbusiness. This is why it is crucial there is a renewed effort fromall stakeholders, and particularly from governments, to support thecontinued development of a strong European Higher EducationArea.”