CANADA: Benefiting from Bologna

The Bologna process, the initiative that tries to smooth the jagged edges off Europe's differing degree and credit structure, has caught the world's attention in a big way. From the Caribbean to Canada, from China to Australia, the plan designed to solve a European problem and that then brought in bordering countries now has nations far beyond those borders looking at some academic retooling.

Bologna meetings in Europe find themselves with higher education players from around the world, taking back information to their constituents, many of whom are looking closely at their systems to see how they can benefit from the bullish plan.

An expert on Bologna and a former head of the European Association for International Education, Fiona Hunter, was in Canada last week to speak at a conference in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Hunter sat down with University World News and explained why Bologna had caused such global reverberations.

The number of countries currently taking a keen interest in Bologna does not surprise her. She says that with the rise in global student mobility, it was inevitable there would be a type of mass re-evaluation. "This was the right process that came at the right time," she says.

In her address to some 200 attendees at the annual meeting of the Canadian Bureau for International Education, Hunter described Bologna as a type of train system where the tracks are shared but the carriages are different, saying that the designers of the reform have always stressed the autonomy of each country to retain its individual education system.

But she says what had been a benefit had also been something of an Achilles' heel, with not all countries reforming their systems at the same speed. She singled out Italy, Spain and Germany as those having the most difficult time in implementing Bologna.

On the other hand, the former communist bloc of Central and Eastern European countries have been much more enthusiastic in adopting Bologna, but have had fewer resources with which to do it. Money has been a big issue: "Universities are expected to implement Bologna with zero money," Hunter told the audience and said she had heard the term "Bologna burnout" being used.

There have been other growing pains but criticisms take a back seat to the enthusiasm exhibited by numerous countries for the process: "It made people sit up and take notice about what was going on in Europe," she told UWN.

Australia seems to be at the front of the neo-Bologna queue. Along with many Asian countries, Australia has now launched the Brisbane Initiative, integrating principles of Bologna while also launching a diploma supplement and holding talks with Europe on integration.

Other regions, such as Mexico and Latin America, have been working on joint projects with Europe, while the Caribbean has also taken a keen interest in the process. New Zealand and the US have been keeping their constituencies informed.

China has also been a keen follower in its efforts to raise student recruitment numbers: "China wants to be a global player," Hunter said of the country that has been the biggest exporter of international students but has recently been making inroads attracting Asian students to its universities.

Likewise, Canada has been ramping up its efforts. This past June, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) released an official statement on Bologna, committing itself to a course of action that would address the implications of the Bologna process on Canadian universities.

Like many others, the AUCC reckons the biggest footprint left on the higher education landscape will be on international student recruitment. In its statement, it calls Bologna "a sophisticated exercise in marketing European higher education".

The AUCC's Pari Johnston said her organisation had determined three key implications for Canadian universities:

* What will a three-year Bologna compliant degree do to Canadian university graduate admissions?

* How will Bologna transparency tools, such as the ECTS and the diploma supplement, as well as programmes such as Erasmus Mundus, affect two-way student mobility between Canadian and European universities?

* With the attractiveness and coherence of the European Higher Education Area, will Canadian universities' ability to attract top international students to Canada be diminished?

The AUCC seems to have made Bologna a high priority and will bring together many of its members for a two-day January symposium on Bologna. For Hunter, the interest of all these countries goes hand in glove with the ever-increasing global nature of the economy: "This is the impact of globalisation on higher education."

While it may have begun as a domestic exercise that would harmonise its member countries, Bologna seems to have always had an eye on the rest of the world. Last year in London came a call for a new global initiative that would take the Bologna model around the globe; it now seems to be on its way.

* Next week from the CBIE conference: International students and mental health