EUROPE: The Eurydice report

Since the beginning of the Bologna process, higher education systems in the European Higher Education Area have grown significantly, says a report prepared for the Vienna conference and published by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, Eurydice, last week.

The report, Focus on Higher Education in Europe 2010, says that although the trend towards mass higher education began before the launch of the Bologna process, the speed of transition has certainly accelerated during the last decade.

It notes that the student populations in Armenia, Lithuania, Montenegro and Romania have practically doubled in size. In another 20 systems, student participation has increased by more than 20%. Only in Spain has the number of students decreased.

"Overall, this picture across the European Higher Education Area fits well with acknowledged global massification trends in higher education, and indeed the rapid speed of European change in higher education demography is being out-paced by other world regions," the report states.

It says that as the size of the student population has grown, so too has the number of higher education institutions - at least in most countries. Indeed in Armenia, the Czech Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Italy, Malta, Montenegro and Slovenia, the number of higher education institutions has expanded by more than 100%.

A large part of this growth has been in vocational and professional higher education programmes, and the sector has also seen growth in private, government-recognised higher education institutions.

In Italy, although 20 universities have been established in the past 10 years, the dramatic increase in institutions can mostly be explained by the recognition of academies of music and fine arts (Afam system) as higher education institutions.

But the trends regarding higher education institutions are not universal, the report states. While some higher education systems have seen significant increases in numbers of institutions, 13 have reported reductions in their number, usually as a result of another trend - the merging of higher education institutions to create greater critical mass.

Over this same period, changes in policy priorities reflect developments in the emphasis laid on different action lines in the ministerial communiqués. In 1999, just after the Bologna Declaration, implementing Bologna degree structures or acceding to the Bologna process itself were among the main policy goals for 13 countries.

This Bologna priority was, however, much less prominent in 2008-09 (although still relevant for five countries), when the focus had shifted to other Bologna issues, particularly quality assurance and the development of National Qualification Frameworks.

Questions of mobility, access, participation and funding remain consistently important over time when looking at all Bologna countries, the report notes.