BOLOGNA STUDENTS: Urgent need for reform

As Education Ministers celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Bologna in Budapest and Vienna this week, the European Student Union criticised the shortcomings and "superficial implementation" of the process.

The union, which represents 11 million members, held a European Student Summit alongside the celebratory Ministerial Conference in Vienna from 7-12 March. Some 130 delegates from 30 European countries took part in workshops while discussing the successes and failures of Bologna.

This meant debates on "burning issues" such as student participation and the financing of higher education, as well as the different ways the Bologna process was being implemented in the European Higher Education Area countries.

During the summit, union members discussed the student survey, Bologna at the Finish Line - An account of ten years of European higher education, and a declaration for the Ministerial conference was adapted.

In the declaration, the ESU praised the achievements of the Bologna process but stressed that the education ministers were still "far from attaining the aim of building a functional European Higher Education Area by 2010".

On this premise, the union made a number of recommendations on how the process might achieve its goals during the next decade. The union criticised the implementation of some Bologna action lines as "superficial and incorrect".

ESU President Ligia Deca said, "The Bologna Process has been misinterpreted, misused and twisted to fit the short-term political aims of the governments. It is sometimes impossible to recognise the basic goals of the process: better social conditions for students, better recognition of foreign degrees and better possibilities to study abroad".

A specific goal the union wanted to see achieved in the coming decade was improvement in student and staff mobility. It claimed developments in the first 10 years had been "spectacular in terms of political attention, but less consistent in terms of real increases in the figures".

The students "urge governments to remove obstacles currently in place, so that 20% of graduates are mobile within the so-called European Higher Education Area by 2020" - an aim set out in the new EU2020-Strategy by the European Commission.

A significant section of the declaration presented at the Ministerial Conference, Higher Education: A right, a public good and a public responsibility, argues that addressing higher education as a competitive market creates significant barriers to realising the social dimension goal.

The union also demanded the ministers recognise students "as real partners in higher education decision-making structures as well as in policy and budget debates".

A number of the ESU recommendations made it into the Ministerial Declaration, which focuses on the social dimension of higher education reform. The extent the recommendations are implemented on a national level, however, is another matter.

Andrea Blätler, an ESU Executive Committee member, explained that "the nature of decision making in the EHEA means that while, on a European level, ESU are very much involved in the Bologna process, we have very little power over domestic education policies."

* Joseph Walters is a correspondent of ESNA, the European Higher Education News Agency based in Berlin