The Bologna Process: European Higher Education Area (EHEA)

  • The Bologna Process is a voluntary intergovernmental coopera¬tion initiative that led to the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). EHEA was formed to promote mobility, increase academic recognition and attract students and staff from around the world to Europe.
  • The Bologna Process facilitates greater comparability and compatibility among the diverse higher education systems and institutions across Europe.
The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • The Bologna Process is an attempt to build an overarching European policy response to issues such as the public responsibility for higher education and research, higher education governance, and the social dimension of higher education and research as well as the values and roles of higher education and research in modern, globalized and increasingly complex societies with the most demanding qualification needs.
  • Previously, there was confusion surrounding educational qualifications between European countries – this had an adverse impact on mobility for individual employment and led to skills shortages in certain economies.
  • Education ministers from 29 European countries signed the Bologna agreement in 1999, committing themselves to harmonizing the architecture of the European higher education system. 
  • In 2005, the ministers adopted an overarching framework for qualifications in the EHEA, comprising three levels (Bachelor/ Master/PhD), and they agreed to develop national qualifications that are compatible with this overarching framework. This aligns the basic higher education framework more closely with that of the North American and Japanese systems. It emphasizes practical training and intensive research projects. Credits are measured based on the achieved learning outcomes and the total student workload (both individual work and contact hours). It is recommended that evaluation methods reflect not only students’ performances on exams, but also their lab experiments, presentations, hours spent on study, innovation capacities, etc. 
  • The unified higher education structure was also designed to promote comparability within the European education arena to support future European multinational ventures, and to promote European study programmes to students outside of Europe.
  • 47 European countries participate in the Bologna Process; the last country to join was Kazakhstan in 2010.
  • Starting from a nonbinding agreement (the 1999 Bologna Declaration), the process has resulted in sweeping reforms in higher education across Europe.
  • It has paved the way for increasingly innovative, cooperative, cross-border study programmes and a growing number of joint degree programmes, through which students study in at least two different geographical faculties being developed across Europe.
Why has it worked?: 
  • It involved close cooperation among governments, higher education institutions, students, staff, employers and quality assurance agencies, supported by the relevant international organizations.
  • It maintained a flexible approach towards the overall process. This can most recently be seen with the introduction of joint degree programmes.
  • It includes a formal quality assurance process based on the same principles outlined in the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ESG), adopted by the EHEA ministers in 2005. By 2009, almost all Bologna countries had introduced quality assurance agencies across their education system.
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • Do not allow a “pick and choose” approach to implementation, or it may lead to great imbalances in the higher education systems. This is especially true if agendas such as the Bologna agenda are also used for justifying national political changes, with little connection to the core Bologna aims. Implementation should not be left to member states or it will become Balkanized.
  • Do not neglect the social dimension of higher education (financial support measures, equality and access); reforms of this scope must not be taken in isolation. 
  • Manage expectations democratically for the countries involved to prevent damaging sentiments of national superiority in recognition and qualification systems.
  • Reforms in degree structure must be matched with reforms in curricula and teaching.
Foundational Issues: 
Information gaps
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 4: Collaboration on a global or multistakeholder level
Economic and political context: 
  • 33% of 18- to 20-year-olds in the EU-27 entered higher education (2006)
  • Half of the Bologna countries spend more than 1.1% of their GDP on education expen¬ditures (2005)
  • A “typical Bologna” country spent 8,300 euros per full-time student in 2005; by comparison, the United States spent nearly twice as much
About the Author(s): 

The Bologna Process was initiated by the education ministers of 29 Europeans countries. This later expanded to 47. It also involved the European Commission, Council of Europe, UNESCOCEPES, representatives of higher education institutions, students, staff, employers and quality assurance agencies.