EUROPE: A decade of reform

The Trends 2010 report by the European University Association reviews implementation of the Bologna process and its impact over the past 10 years on higher education across 46 countries in Europe, in the context of broader reform processes affecting European higher education.

The report is based on questionnaire responses from 821 universities, 27 national university associations, and site visits to 16 countries. Its launch in Vienna last Thursday marked the official launch of the European Higher Education Area and the end of the first phase of the Bologna reform process that began in 1999.

The report is the sixth in the Trends series and considers new degree structures, credit transfer and accumulation systems, and the use of the diploma supplement since the outset. It also assesses progress towards the underlying aims of the Bologna process, such as improving quality of teaching, graduate employability and mobility of students and staff.

As well, the report considers some of the key challenges for policymakers as they look ahead to the next decade of higher education cooperation.

EUA President, Professor Jean-Marc Rapp, above, presented some of the key findings at the Ministerial meeting, saying. "We are now at a crucial point in the history of European higher education cooperation. This study shows that after 10 years, the 'Bologna architecture' is now firmly in place to build a strong common higher education area.

"However, it is crucial now that these reforms receive the necessary support from all stakeholders in order to create a flexible European Higher Education Area which provides graduates with all of the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century."

Key findings from the report:

* Implementation of three degree cycles of bachelors, masters, doctorate: 95% of institutions have implemented the three cycle system compared with 82% in the last Trends report in 2007.
* European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System: 90% of universities use the credit transfer system for all bachelors and masters, an increase from 75% in 2007, while 88% also use the system for credit accumulation in all courses.
* Use of the Diploma Supplement: Two-thirds (66%) of institutions issue a diploma supplement to all graduating students and a further 14% do so 'on request', a marked increase from 2007.
* Universities' views about realisation of Bologna: 58% of universities were 'very positive' about the realisation of the European Higher Education Area, while 38% said there had been 'mixed results'. Only 0.1% said it had been 'negative'.
* Implementation of degree structures in professional disciplines has been more difficult: The implementation of bachelors/masters structure in a wide variety of regulated professions such as medicine, law, engineering and dentistry has been challenging. Figures vary widely between the different professions.
* Quality of teaching: Bologna has acted as a catalyst to improve quality of teaching and move towards student-centred learning: 77% of universities have reviewed curricula in all departments under the Bologna process, compared with 55% in 2007. As well, 53% of universities said learning outcomes had been developed for 'all courses' and a further 32% for 'some courses'.
* Employability of graduates: Problems linked to graduate employability remain, particularly at the bachelors level in countries introducing the bachelors cycle for the first time (employers do not fully recognise this new qualification). In these countries, the masters degree tends to remains the basic entry standard to the labour market. In other countries where the bachelors has been the basic qualification, the masters has added value to the CVs of graduates.
* Mobility: despite efforts to promote mobility, there is little data available on mobility flows and how this has progressed during Bologna.
* Lifelong learning continues to become strategically more important in universities. Nearly 40% now have an overall strategy for lifelong learning and a further 34% are developing one. More than 80% of universities now offer professional development courses for adults, for example.
* Bologna has stimulated moves to improve quality assurance (internal and external) in Europe: 28 countries have already reviewed their quality assurance systems against the European Standards and Guidelines for quality assurance established in 2005 as part of Bologna.

The Trends 2010 report also outlines challenges for the next decade and these include:

* Improving communication about the reforms so all stakeholders (students, academics, employers, and society) understand the purpose and benefits of Bologna.
* Completing implementation within universities and consolidating the qualitative changes such as those outlined above.
* The Bologna process must focus on a vision of education rather than on measurements or the more technical aspects of the tools. This requires the continuous engagement of students and institutions in the decision-making process.
* Lack of additional public funding at national level to implement reforms: this is particularly important in order to fully implement student-centred learning which requires greater human and financial resources.
* The need for closer links between the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area to ensure a coherent policy approach and achieve the goals of a 'Europe of knowledge'.
* Policy-makers and institutions need to do more to promote mobility and remove many of the obstacles that currently exist, given the growing importance of internationalisation for universities.