EUROPE: Student declaration on Bologna

A meeting of more than 100 representatives from 49 student unions across Europe was held in Prague last month to draw up a declaration leading to a Ministerial Conference of the Bologna Process in April. The declaration provides an analysis of the progress made on Bologna over the last 10 years and calls for changes over the next decade to 2020. The key element of the declaration says that the vision of a European Higher Education Area that the Bologna process was intended to create is still a long way from being delivered.

"Words have failed to be met by actions and there is an 'à la carte' approach to the implementation of the reforms in many countries which means that certain action lines, specifically those relating to the social dimension and mobility, are being neglected," the European Students Union said in a statement following the meeting.

The Ministerial Conference will take place from 28-29 April in the Belgian university town of Leuven/Louvain. Education Ministers from all 46 Bologna signatory countries will review the progress made since the last meeting in London in 2007 and are to set the priorities for delivering the EHEA by 2020.

"As students are the primary group affected by the Bologna process changes, ESU and its members will be working continuously between now and the end of April to ensure that our perspective is clearly heard at the decision-making table," the ESU said.

The declaration issued after the Prague meeting says the ultimate goal of the reforms must be the creation of an EHEA "that distinguishes itself by the high quality of its higher education provision, its focus on catering for diverse student and societal needs and its capacity to ensure equal opportunities for all, free from discrimination and barriers to the development of the full potential of its citizens".

"The core values needed to guide the achievement of such goals are student participation and academic freedom within a framework which enshrines education as both a public good and a public responsibility. ESU believes in this vision, which has come a long way since its formal inception 10 years ago.

"Much has changed, bringing benefits to millions of students across Europe. And yet, many of the action lines will remain unfulfilled by 2010. A renewed and ambitious Bologna agenda is therefore essential to make the original vision of the EHEA an unequivocal reality for all European students, regardless of origin, background, means or ability, by 2020."

The declaration says that while the commitments and words on Bologna continue for the most part to reflect the spirit and ideals of the EHEA, progress on the ground has been much slower than needed to make the EHEA a concrete reality. At a national level, different reform agendas have become indistinct and the lack of public debate has created a level of misunderstanding about the real goals of the process.

"Countries have insisted on a 'pick and choose' approach to the implementation of the process, neglecting fundamental action lines and resulting in contradictions and inconsistencies. The focus on structural reforms, a divorce between form and content, the misuse of tools, and reforms reducing student participation in institutional governance have led to a feeling of frustration and a reduction in support amongst the student body. The gap between rhetoric and reality needs to be urgently addressed if students, academics and the European public are to retain faith in the process."