The purpose of the Bologna process (or Bologna accords) is to create the European higher education area by making academic degree standards and quality assurance standards more comparable and compatible throughout Europe. It is named after the place it was proposed, the University of Bologna with the signing, in 1999, of the Bologna declaration by ministers of education from 29 European countries in the Italian city of Bologna. This was opened up to other countries, and further governmental meetings have been held in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003) and Bergen (2005); the next meeting will take place in London in Spring 2007.
Before the signing of the Bologna declaration, the Magna Carta Universitatum had been issued at a meeting of university rectors celebrating the 900th anniversary of the University of Bologna - and thus of European universities - in 1988. One year before the Bologna declaration, education ministers Claude Allegre (France), Jurgen Ruttgers (Germany), Luigi Berlinguer (Italy) and the Baroness Blackstone (UK) signed the Sorbonne declaration in Paris 1998, committing themselves to "harmonising the architecture of the European Higher Education system". French officials in particular therefore often refer to the La Sorbonne/Bologna process.
The Council of Europe and UNESCO have jointly issued the Lisbon recognition convention on recognition of academic qualifications as part of the process, which has been ratified by the majority of the countries party to the Bologna process.
The basic framework adopted is of three cycles of higher education qualification. As outlined in the Bergen Declaration of 2005, the cycles are defined in terms of qualifications and ECTS credits:
In most cases, these will take 3, 2, and 3 years respectively to complete. The actual naming of the degrees may vary from country to country.
These levels are closer to the current model in the UK and Ireland than that in most of Continental Europe, where the model often is based on the Magister or diploma. In any case, program length tends to vary from country to country, and less often between institutions within a country.
Most countries do not currently fit the framework – instead they have their own time-honoured systems. The process will have many knock-on effects such as bilateral agreements between countries and institutions which recognise each others' degrees. However, the process is now moving away from a strict convergence in terms of time spent on qualifications, towards a competency-based system. The system will have an undergraduate and postgraduate division, with the bachelor degree in the former and the master and doctoral in the latter.
In mainland Europe five year plus first degrees are common, with some taking up to eight years not being unheard of. This leads to many not completing their studies; many of these countries are now introducing bachelor-level qualifications. This situation is changing rapidly as the Bologna Process is implemented.
Russia and Ukraine
The Russian and Ukrainian higher education frameworks are basically incompatible with the process: the generic "lowest" degree in all universities since Soviet era is the Specialist which can be obtained after completing 5-6 years of studies. Since the mid-90s, many universities have introduced limited educational programmes allowing students to graduate with a Bachelor's degree (4 years) and then earn a Master's degree (another 1-2 years) while preserving the old 5-year scheme. It's worth mentioning that even though Specialists are eligible for post-graduate courses (Aspirantura) as well as Masters are, Bachelors are not. Specialist degree is now being discontinued in universities that take part in Bologna process, so new students don't have this option.
The Bologna process is not without its critics and detractors.
For instance some of the criticism of the process is the change that will be involved. In some countries, such as Ireland, the pre-Bologna structure is nearer to the United States and this is a perceived benefit. Also the costs and disruption involved in changing structures which previously have been perceived to work to the benefit of educationalists and employers is questioned. Other perceived disadvantages are that the master's degree will become the minimum qualification for a professional engineer, rather than the bachelor's degree, or vice versa. The agreements between professional bodies will require revaluation in some cases as qualifications change.
During the years 2006 - 2007, the Greek government (New Democracy) with the consent of PASOK tried to implement the declaration of Bologna through massive reforms aiming at the university system. The above actions led to universities being taken over by the students, massive protests, police violence and riots. These reactions led to the failure of the constitutional change of the article 16 that prohibits the founding of private universities and also blocked the reform in the laws regarding the internal workings of universities. In general, the Bologna process is denied by the majorities of the university students and teachers syndicates. Strikes also occurred in France in 2002-2003 against the reforms.
Furthermore, the process doesn't take into account the difference of vocational and academic education in the German-originated system. The conflation of the two types of degrees can be counterproductive, since the vocational three-year degrees are not intended for further study.
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