The Bologna process

Background

The Bologna process started in 1998 when the education ministers of Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom signed the Sorbonne Declaration concerning the harmonisation of European higher education degree systems.
It was decided at the time that a new deliration would be prepared for the following year, inviting the education ministers of the largest possible number of European countries to sign it. The document, called the Bologna Declaration, was signed by the education ministers of 29 European countries in Bologna in June 1999.

Aims of the Bologna process

The ultimate goal of the Bologna Declaration is to create a common European Higher Education Area by 2010 with a view to improving the competitiveness and attraction of European higher education in relation to other continents. The means to this end are six objectives:

  • Easily readable and comparable degrees. The foremost tools for achieving this are ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) and the Diploma Supplement.
  • Uniform degree structures. The degree structure will be mainly based on a two-cycle model. The first cycle, lasting a minimum of three years, ends in a Bachelor-level degree, which should also be relevant to the European labour market as an appropriate level of qualification. The second cycle consists of Master's  degrees and postgraduate degrees are third cycle degrees .
  • Establishment of a system of credits - such as in the ECTS system. Many countries do not have a system of study credits and determine their degrees only in years or semesters.
  • Increased mobility. Obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement will be removed in order to effect essential increases in the mobility of students, teachers, researchers and administrative staff.
  • Promotion of European co-operation in quality assurance with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies. The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) plays a key role in this.
  • Promotion of the European dimension in higher education. Closer international cooperation and networks; language and cultural education.


Follow-up to the process

A Bologna follow-up group was set up to monitor the process and to devise a work programme. The group consists of representatives of all the participating countries and meets a few times a year. It decides on the international events to be arranged within the scope of the process, the reports to be written and the ways in which progress is reported to the ministers.

The first ministerial meeting was organised in Prague in May 2001. The ministers published a Communiqué, adopted procedures for expanding the process, and accepted the applications of certain countries to join the process. New objectives were added to the original ones: students' participation in the process, lifelong learning and the creation of joint degrees. Special attention in Prague was paid to cooperation in European quality assurance.

The next ministerial follow-up meetings took place in Berlin 18 -19 September 2003 and in Bergen 19 - 20 May 2005.

The process in Finland and elsewhere

The Finnish universities initially took a fairly negative view of the Bologna Declaration. Now the situation has changed and universities are actively preparing their participation in the creation of the European Higher Education Area. The polytechnics took a positive view of the process from the outset.

In order to strengthen the position of Finnish universities in the European Higher Education Area, Finland is reforming the degree structure and devising an international strategy for the Finnish higher education system. Another important means is to strengthen quality assurance in universities and polytechnics. The new two-cycle degree system adopted by Finnish universities in August 2005.

The Ministry of Education has not seen it necessary to create a two-cycle degree system in polytechnics, which will keep the present system. The status of polytechnic postgraduate degrees in the higher education system as a whole must be determined explicitly. The extent of Finnish polytechnic degrees determined on the basis of ECTS at the same time as the university degrees.

In Finland universities and polytechnics have adopted the Diploma Supplement. It is a document jointly designed by the EU, the Council of Europe and UNESCO to provide information about the studies completed by the student, the status of the degree and the qualification provided by the degree for further studies and for jobs. In Finland the universities and polytechnics have a statutory duty to issue a Diploma Supplement to the student on request.

Finnish higher education institutions use the ECTS system in international student mobility schemes. This has revealed the problems in the Finnish credit unit system, especially as regards university studies, which is why the Finnish degrees reformed to be compatible with the ECTS in connection with the adoption of the two-cycle degree system.

At present degree structures are evolving in line with the Bologna Declaration, and the Bachelor-Master structure is becoming the prevalent model. However, the extent and duration of degrees in Europe vary, the most common structures being 3+2 years and 4+1 years. The ECTS and the Diploma Supplement are in use in most countries.

In recent years the Bologna process has focused on quality assurance systems and their recognition. Most countries have adopted some kind of an accreditation system, which has stood in good stead when the higher education systems have been in the whirlwind of change. The Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council has been very active in quality assurance cooperation.