Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Androulla Vassiliou has told Member States that they need to urgently modernise their higher education systems and remove barriers to a fully functioning European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in response to the crisis and rising youth unemployment. Speaking ahead of the two-yearly meeting of higher education ministers in Bucharest (Romania), in the framework of the Bologna Process, Commissioner Vassiliou underlined that action is essential to help drive jobs and growth in Europe. Source: European Commission.
"The European Higher Education Area has undoubtedly made real progress in bringing different countries' systems closer together. But we need to do more: higher education should be at the heart of all our efforts to overcome the crisis, opening doors to better opportunities for our young people," the Commissioner stated. "It is essential that Europe delivers reforms that will unleash its full potential to shape our future. Our target is a fully functioning EHEA which provides top-class education and employable skills for all, which stimulates innovation and ensures proper recognition of academic qualifications."
These goals will not be achieved "without securing sufficient funding for higher education to make a lasting contribution to economic wellbeing and social progress," she added.
Higher education ministers from 47 European countries1 are meeting in Bucharest on 26 and 27 April to agree on reforms to create a modernised, open European Higher Education Area. Against the backdrop of the crisis and its social impact, Ministers have agreed that reforms need to concentrate on developing the underexploited capacity of higher education to contribute to growth and employability – a message that is also central to the European Commission's 'Agenda for Modernising Higher Education Systems in Europe', adopted in September 2011 (see IP/11/1043).
A report on the current state of progress in implementing the Bologna Process reforms is also published today.
Background - Ministerial Conference
The Ministerial Conference will establish the priorities for the next stage of the Bologna Process (2012-2015) for the EHEA countries. Ministers will adopt the Bologna Mobility Strategy which states that, by 2020, 20% of European higher education graduates will have spent part of their studies abroad, in line with the European benchmark for higher education mobility adopted in November 2011. The conference is held alongside the Bologna Policy Forum, which brings together countries from outside the EHEA, reflecting the interest of countries around the world in the Bologna reforms.
The Bologna Process
The Bologna Process seeks to create a European Higher Education Area in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. Since its beginnings in 1999, the Bologna Process has been an example of successful Europe-wide cooperation, bringing together European countries to agree and implement higher education reforms on the basis of voluntary cooperation. It has made progress that would not have been possible through purely national approaches. The European Commission is an active member of the Bologna Process, together with the 47 member countries.
The main Bologna reforms have concentrated on the three-cycle degree structure (bachelor, master, doctorate), quality assurance, and recognition of qualifications and periods of study. The Bologna degree structure is generally being adopted; in three-quarters of the EHEA countries, between 70 and 90% of students are studying in programmes that correspond to the Bologna bachelor and master system. The latest Bologna Implementation Report, presented to Ministers in Bucharest, and prepared with the support of the European Commission, concludes that all countries have made significant changes that have enabled the European Higher Education Area to develop. However, progress is uneven, against a backdrop of declining public expenditure on higher education and practical problems persist. Too many students drop out from higher education or graduate without employable skills. Some face barriers in having their academic qualifications recognised in another country and it is taking time for institutions to shift to 'student-centred learning' – where educational programmes are tailored to what students need, and clearly set out what they should understand and be able to do as a result of their studies ('learning outcomes'). In general, higher education is not yet delivering on its potential to stimulate growth.
A number of instruments developed within the Bologna Process are helping to drive the move towards more student-centred systems. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) allocates credit points to each part of a study programme, based on the student workload to achieve specified learning outcomes. This makes it more straightforward for students to accumulate credits earned under different programmes, and simplifies the recognition of study abroad in their home institution. The 'Diploma Supplement', attached to a diploma, gives a standardised description of the studies completed – making it easier to understand the content of any diploma, whatever the country in which it was earned. The use of these tools continues to grow and develop, but is not always systematic and shortcomings remain. Problems also persist regarding recognition of qualifications. Despite national ratification of the Lisbon Recognition Convention, a number of countries have not managed to ensure that their institutional recognition procedures comply with the Convention.
Bologna Follow-Up Group
The European Commission is a member of the Bologna Follow-Up Group and its working groups; it supports the Bologna Secretariat and the network of experts on the Bologna Process; it contributes funding for Ministerial meetings and for many reports, conferences and seminars. Many Bologna tools (ECTS, for example) originated in the Commission's Erasmus student exchange programme. The Implementation Report on progress in Bologna reforms, written for the Ministerial Conference by Eurydice, Eurostat and Eurostudent, is supported by the Commission.
The Commission's modernisation agenda for higher education sets out five key areas for reform – increasing graduate numbers to meet the Europe 2020 target of 40% of young people with higher education qualifications by 2020; raising quality and making higher education more relevant to job needs and societal demands; better quality mobility for study; embedding higher education in the education, research and innovation 'knowledge triangle'; and improving governance and funding. The Bologna Process and the Commission's modernisation agenda reinforce each other.
The Commission supports more intensive exchanges between the EHEA and other countries around the world. It has been influential in setting up the 'Bologna Policy Forum', where EHEA Ministers discuss higher education issues with global partners and which takes place alongside the Bologna Ministerial conference.
The EU also supports capacity-building measures to modernise higher education in 27 neighbouring countries and to bring their systems in line with the Bologna requirements. The Tempus programme, which currently has an annual budget of about €90 million, has since 1990 funded approximately 4000 cooperation projects, involving more than 2,000 universities from the EU and its partner countries. The EU's flagship programme for worldwide academic cooperation, Erasmus Mundus, offers scholarships for Joint Masters and Doctorates for students from any part of the world.