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Professor Jeroen Huisman
Professor Jeroen Huisman

Press Release - 21 May 2007

Higher education in Europe unlikely to hit target integration date, says expert

The Bologna Process of integrating higher education in Europe is unlikely to achieve its aims by its target date of 2010, a leading academic has said.

Professor Jeroen Huisman, of the University of Bath, voiced his doubts after the conclusion of a meeting of European Ministers last week in London to assess progress of the Process.

“The Ministers could have concluded – without losing face – that some of the ambitions need more time to realise,” said Professor Huisman, who is Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM).

“Therefore the agenda needs to be adjusted by setting priorities for 2010 and leaving other matters for after that year,” he said.

The Bologna Process, signed in 1999, committed 46 European countries to create by 2010 a single European higher education area, allowing students and staff to transfer easily from one European university to another.

It hopes to create a situation where universities in the 46 countries can know what level students at other institutions have reached because they assessed to a common standard. It also hopes to improve the standard of European universities.

Professor Huisman criticised the declaration made at the end of last week’s meeting as having “much repetition and a lack of direction”.

“The latest document addresses all elements of the policy agenda - for example, degree structures, quality assurance, doctoral candidates - but does not go much beyond stating that much has been achieved, but there is still much work to do.

“Such a document may be perceived by those being sceptical about the process as a signal that the objectives will not be met and that much of the document is rhetoric. Those enthusiastic about the reform process may be disappointed that their investments and concrete achievements are not sufficiently recognised. And all this at a very critical phase in the process, with three years to go.

“For sure, much has been achieved and certainly the process has implied tremendous and unprecedented changes throughout Europe and even outside the continent. But, in light of the deadline nearby, it may have been wise not to put so much emphasis on achieving all the objectives by 2010.

“Possibly, the Ministers could have concluded – without losing face – that some of the ambitions need more time to realise and that therefore the agenda needs to be adjusted by setting priorities for 2010 and leaving other matters for after that year.

“A relative novelty is that the document stresses the need to improve the availability of data on both mobility and the social dimension. I would argue that this is actually necessary for all the aspects of the reform process.

“The initiators should have started much earlier a debate on how progress would be measured. To date, much emphasis is on ‘measuring’ structural changes - how many countries have a Bachelor-Master structure, how many have implemented the Diploma Supplement. But we tend to forget that these changes were only mechanisms to achieve other objectives. Currently we do not know whether the employability of graduates has improved, whether competitiveness is on the rise and how compatible systems actually are.”


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