EUROPE: Bologna ignores us: students

The Bologna process appears to be falling seriously behind in putting its ideas into practice, Europe's students say. They claim the process is in grave danger of being revealed as a "superficial redesign of higher education structures in Europe rather than a transformation of the whole academic and learning paradigm".

The European Students' Union representing 49 national unions with more than11 million members accepts that progress has been made in some aspects of Bologna: it cites the implementation of structural reforms such as the three-cycle system (bachelor, masters, doctorate) but says content reforms such as those relating to mobility, the social dimension and student participation have been largely neglected.

The union says this has left "a huge hole at the centre of the process" and that overall, the slow progress since the 2007 report was written is alarming. The situation now, as it has been for many years, is that students still face huge barriers to their learning through socio-economic factors, gender and family situation.

"Students tend not to be regarded as equal partners in educational and decision-making structures, and are largely unable to take advantage of mobility opportunities to study abroad," the ESU says in its report, Bologna With Student Eyes 2009, which it released as an input to last month's meeting of the 46 education ministers involved in implementing the Bologna process.

As students see it, the situation has not changed much since 2007 when they drew attention to the failure to address the social dimension, "the one element preventing the whole process from being revealed as little more than a hollow skeleton of structural reforms".

At the same time, there are some "encouraging chinks of light" with visible progress for instance in terms of student participation, quality assurance and the European Credit Transfer System. The picture is not one of total stagnation but of patchy progress, the union says.

Nevertheless, it is particularly inflamed by the gap between claims that reforms have been put in place and the actual observations of students. The union says their experiences reveal that these reforms are only in place at a rather superficial level and the situation on the ground "is far less glossy than the paper on which such statements are made".

The students have called for a "radical change of approach" that would include developing national action plans for implementation, delivering on the commitments made in terms of the social dimension, setting and achieving a concrete mobility target, and increasing access, equity and participation at all levels of learning.

"The Bologna process needs to be revitalised in its second decade, and Bologna With Student Eyes 2009 provides a clear roadmap for doing so and for achieving the goal of a European Higher Education Area by 2020," Ligia Deca, ESU chairperson, said.

The union issued a lengthy list of recommendations for 2010 and beyond, including a call for legislation to ensure a minimum level of student involvement in institutional governance. Students should be fully involved in the decision-making process related to their education and "must be both considered and treated as equal partners in institutional governance," the union said.