OECD: US can learn from Bologna process

The US "must adapt and apply the lessons" learned from the Bologna Process if it is to increase the percentage of Americans with high quality degrees, according to Holiday Hart McKiernan, Senior Vice-president of the Lumina Foundation for Higher Education.

Research by Lumina showed that the Bologna Process has developed methodologies that "uniquely focus on linking student learning and the outcomes of higher education," she said at the OECD's Institutional Management in Higher Education conference in Paris.

Lumina hopes to see 60% of Americans obtain high quality degrees by 2025, MeKeirnan said.

Achieving this is important for higher education in the US because the modern American workforce requires higher skills than those of the previous generation, added Tim Birtwhistle, professor emeritus at Leeds University,

"For generations the American economy created large numbers of middle-class jobs that did not require high levels of skill or knowledge." But those jobs are being relocated to other countries while 'cerebral' jobs remain, he said.

However, government data predicts a gap in workforce readiness in the next decade. Economist Anthony Carnevale estimates the US could be short 15 million graduates to fill new jobs and replace retiring baby boomers, Birtwhisle said.

Lumina set up several pilot projects in Indiana, Minnesota, Utah and Texas to study the viability of adapting the Bologna Process to the US. They found that there were similarities in the issues addressed between Europe and the US and that a degree framework could be useful in resolving some of the challenges faced by the US.

These challenges include: student mobility between institutions, states and even between programmes within institutions; transparency and accountability; expanding the ability of students to obtain courses and credits from a variety of sources; accounting for experience and prior learning towards earning a degree; and expanding the system in new and creative ways while maintaining quality.

One of the Bologna Processes methodologies, 'tuning' - a faculty-led approach that involves seeking input from students, recent graduates and employers to establish criterion-referenced learning outcomes and competencies - can be applied to the US, Birtwhisle said.

However, there is opposition to the method in the US which must be overcome, McKiernan warned.

A major difference between the US and Europe is the level of government involvement in higher education. In the US, the federal government rarely intervenes in educational matters. This can hinder the acceptance of a national framework, she said.

It is therefore up to the leaders of the higher education community, in cooperation with students, employers and other stakeholders, to develop and pilot a common degree programme, she said.