Creating continental tensions: the Bologna process

If you Google the phrase ‘What is Bologna?’ you get a quick and precise answer: its an ‘inexpensive spiced sausage’. If you want to know what it looks like, here it is.

But as this is a university blog (not that we always focus on academic matters), you may by now have guessed that what I might have wanted from Google was not information about this or any other sausage, but rather something quite different: the process initiated by the European Union in 1999 in Bologna, that aims to create a ‘European Higher Education Area’ by 2010 with comparable qualifications, credit transfer, mobility and quality assurance. The intention is not to create a single higher education system, but rather a set of systems which are comparable in terms of outputs and outcomes. Or at least, that’s my attempt at a brief summary.

However, for many in this part of the world it might as well all be a spiced sausage. In fact, some might suggest that there is something deeply significant in the fact that a Bologna sausage is in America often referred to as ‘boloney’. In part this may be because the Bologna process seems very remote – and in fact, its impact on university life in Ireland may be less than its impact on the continent, as its basic structures probably owe more to the traditional Anglo-American framework than any of the (very diverse) European ones. Bologna for the first time introduces the concept of ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Master’ degree qualifications into European countries.

But as far as continental Europe is concerned, that’s not all. Right now in Germany there are protests and demonstrations about Bologna, based on the fear that the reforms will actually lead to an impoverishment of higher education (not least because it is setting up a standard duration for degree programmes, a concept that runs counter to the German tradition of studying for eight years or more) and a reduction in resourcing.

The Bologna process is, perhaps, still too much just the property of those who are natural European enthusiasts in this country. However, given the effect it is having across Europe, it is time that we too paid more attention.

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3 Comments on “Creating continental tensions: the Bologna process”

  1. Perry Share Says:

    Ferdinand – I can see that your attempt to stimulate discussion on the Bologna process has led to the usual frenzied activity I encounter when trying to drop it into normal conservation. A pity, in as much as it actually determines just about everything that happens in higher education these days.


    • Yes, Perry – writing/talking about Bologna induces immediate yawns eyes glazing over in even the best company. I recently asked a group of colleagues from 3 different universities whether they could say anything at all about the Bologna process other than its name. Thankfully one could. But only one! And yet, I have to admit that I’m not necessarily that different – I find it very hard to summon up any great enthusiasm for it as a topic! Though of course you are right as to its importance…

  2. Iainmacl Says:

    twitter, facebook and other social media are being heavily used here in Germany to communicate about the protests against Bologna and the other associated university reforms. follow some of it and other protests on #unibrennt


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