The Bologna Process: Its Impact on Erasmus and Horizon 2020 Projects

It is an intergovernmental cooperation of several European countries to ensure comparability standards are maintained in areas relating to higher education qualifications. The Bologna process forms the basis for universities, public authorities, students, teachers and stakeholder associations, international organisations, quality assurance agencies and institutions to improve the internationalisation of higher education. It was named after the University of Bologna after the Bologna declaration of 1999 that was approved by education ministers from 29 European countries. This declaration guided the Bologna process.

The Bologna declaration highlighted the European Higher Education Regions that students and graduates could move freely between the member states using higher education qualifications from different countries. The premise for the declaration was to determine common terminology and standards that students could use and the introduction of a system that involved two cycles. Participants could only access the second cycle after the successful completion of the first cycle, which lasted three years. The Declaration allowed degree holders of the first cycle to obtain the European labour market. The completion of the second cycle awarded students masters and doctorate degrees in many other European countries.

The Bologna declaration highlighted the European Higher Education Regions that students and graduates could move freely between the member states using higher education qualifications from different countries. The premise for the declaration was to determine common terminology and standards that students could use and the introduction of a system that involved two cycles. Participants could only access the second cycle after the successful completion of the first cycle, which lasted three years. The Declaration allowed degree holders of the first cycle to obtain the European labour market. The completion of the second cycle awarded students masters and doctorate degrees in many other European countries.

Objectives of the Bologna Process

Its primary objective is to introduce the three regular education system (bachelor, master and doctorate), strengthen quality assurance and establish frameworks that make it easy to recognise international qualifications and periods of study. As a result, the process has created the European Higher Education Area manned by the Lisbon Recognition Convention. The Bergen meeting of 2005 defined the qualifications regarding the learning outcomes from the three cycles of higher education. The ECTS system used to award credits to each period:

• The first cycle- for students who have credits ranging from 180-240 ECTS credits, i.e., a minimum of 60 credits in each academic year
• The second cycle- for master’s students who attain 90-120 ECTS credits
• The third cycle- It does not give an ECTS range since the disciplines vary in comprehensiveness and length

Members of Bologna Process

The implementation of the Bologna process caused bilateral agreements between institutions and member states that recognised other country’s degrees. As a result, the systems moved from spending significant amounts of time in qualifications to competency-based systems that recognised postgraduate and undergraduate divisions. Some countries redesigned their degree structures, financing, qualification criteria and management of higher education programmes while others introduced reforms in their faculties. Here are examples of member states affected by the Bologna Process and how they have implemented the cycles in their institutions:

Austria

Institutions of higher learning offer the lowest undergraduate degree in the form of Diplom and Magister. Both qualifications are attained in 3-4 years where students are required to fulfil a thesis. In 2000, the curriculum was converted into the three-cycle framework; the bachelor’s degree, master’s and the doctoral programmes. The bachelor programme lasted three years, comprising six semesters while the master’s lasted 18 months to 2 years.

Croatia

The country’s higher education system adopted the Bologna process during the 2005-2006 academic years. Initially, it had a diploma degree that lasted four years. It was converted to baccalaureate and the years were reduced to three. Croatia’s higher education system makes a distinction between academic and vocational degrees at the bachelor level and engineering and other courses at the doctoral level.

There are exceptions to the standard period of three years for degrees in Economics as it still lasts four years. Additionally, the country’s education system requires students pursuing master’s to attend Zagreb School of Economics and Management and the University Of Zagreb Faculty Of Economics for one year. Master’s programmes for other faculties last two years and a doctorate attained after three or more years of study. Bachelor and masters programmes for fine arts and music also adopt the four plus one system while Medicine and other related courses use a six-year professional degree instead of the bachelor’s degree. Students are then allowed to pursue a doctorate known as Doktor Medicine.

Finland

Prior to the Bologna process, Finland divided its higher education system into polytechnics and universities. Degrees awarded in the universities were three-year programmes and two-year master’s degrees. There was no change in these fields after the adoption of the Bologna process.

However, for engineering courses, the five and a half year master’s program was replaced by a three-year bachelor’s course and a two-year master’s program. Other fields that were affected included the military higher education where the officer degree was split between bachelor and masters programmes. Bachelor degrees from Finland polytechnics are recognised internationally, but for local use, the students are required to attain 60 ECTS credits to enrol for masters studies.

Other countries affected by the process include France, Denmark, Iceland, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Russia and Sweden.

How the Bologna Process Aids in the Achievement of Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 Goals

The introduction of the Bologna Process across EU member and non-member states fostered mobility of students across different countries. Mobility creates openness and allows countries to learn from one another while enhancing international cooperation. It also creates innovation in learning and tailors training, learning and qualifications to individual needs. The implementation of the Bologna process in various states spawned the introduction of the ECTS credit system that developed mutual understanding, trust between institutions and recognition of higher education, which made the achievement of Erasmus+ project goals easier.

The Erasmus 2014 Impact study found that a student’s traits like tolerance, decisiveness and confidence were improved after mobility. Also, graduates who had international experience through the Bologna Process performed better in the job market than others. The study also found that such graduates were half as likely to experience long-term unemployment compared to those who had not studied abroad.

Another goal attained through cross-boarders relations of the Bologna process is sustainability and recognition of joint degree programmes. They promote transparency and support the convergence of higher education systems throughout Europe.