The Bologna Process was introduced with the scope of strengthening the competitiveness and attractiveness of European higher education, while fostering student mobility and employability through transparency and recognition of qualifications. In this context, the three-cycle system has been implemented, and a series of tools based on the concept of learning outcomes has been developed.

These encompass qualifications frameworks, transfer and accumulation of credits, and the methodical description of all competences acquired during studies.

The Bologna Process is founded on regular consultations of ministers responsible for higher education. It also includes the European Commission as a full member. The Council of Europe, the UNESCO European Centre for Higher Education (UNESCO/CEPES) and a range of stakeholder organisations – European University Association, European Association of Institutions in Higher Education, European Association for Quality Assurance, European Students Union, Education International, and BUSINESS EUROPE – are involved as consultative members. The policy decisions taken during the ministerial conferences led in March 2010 to the establishment of a European Higher Education Area, in which now forty-seven countries participate.

Since 1998, ministerial conferences devoted to mapping out the Bologna Process have been systematically held. Their core decisions could be classified as follows:

Sorbonne Declaration (1998)

The basic precepts of the Bologna Process date back to the Sorbonne Joint Declaration on Harmonisation of the Architecture of the European Higher Education System, signed in May 1998 by the education ministers of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The Sorbonne Declaration focused on:

1 Improving the international transparency of programmes and the recognition of qualifications by means of gradual convergence towards a common framework of qualifications and cycles of study;

2 Facilitating the mobility of students and teachers in the European area and their integration into the European labour market;

3 Designing a common degree level system for undergraduates (bachelor’s degree) and graduates (master’s and doctoral degrees).

Bologna Declaration (1999)

The Bologna Declaration on the European Higher Education Area, largely inspired by the Sorbonne Declaration, was signed in June 1999 by ministers responsible for higher education in twenty-nine European countries –the then fifteen European Union Member States, three European Free Trade Association countries (Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland) and eleven European Union candidate countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia). International institutions, such as the European Commission, the Council of Europe and associations of universities, rectors and European students also participated in drafting the document.

While establishing the general framework for the modernisation and reform of European higher education, the Bologna Declaration also formulates the objective of increasing the international competitiveness of the European system of higher education, and affirms the intention to:

1 Adopt a system of easily readable and comparable degrees;

2 Implement a system based essentially on two main cycles;

3 Establish a system of credits (such as the European Credit Transfer System);

4 Support the mobility of students, teachers, researchers and administrative staff;

5 Promote European co-operation in quality assurance;

6 Promote the European dimensions in higher education (in terms of curricular development and inter-institutional co-operation).

Prague Communiqué (2001)

In May 2001, the ministerial meeting in Prague was convened to identify the main priorities that should drive the Bologna Process in the years ahead. Thirty-three countries participated, with Croatia, Cyprus, Turkey, and Liechtenstein accepted as new members. The European Commission also joined as a member. The ministers decided to establish a Bologna Follow-up Group responsible for the continuing development of the Process, and composed of representatives of all signatory countries and the European Commission.

The Prague Communiqué emphasised three elements of the Bologna Process:

1 Development of lifelong learning;

2 Involvement of higher education institutions and students;

3 Promotion of the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area.

Berlin Communiqué (2003)

Held in September 2003, the Berlin Conference was an important stage in the follow up to the Bologna Process. With the inclusion of seven new signatory countries – Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Holy See, the Russian Federation, and Serbia and Montenegro –, forty countries were then involved. In the Berlin Communiqué, ministers charged the Bologna Follow-up Group with preparing detailed reports on the progress and implementation of the intermediate priorities and organising a stocktaking process.

With the Berlin Communiqué, the Bologna Process gained additional momentum by setting certain priorities for the next two years:

1. Development of quality assurance at institutional, national and European levels;

2. Starting the implementation of the two-cycle system;

3. Recognition of degrees and periods of studies, including the provision of the Diploma Supplement automatically and free of charge for all graduates as of 2005;

4. Elaboration of an overarching framework of qualifications for the European Higher Education Area;

5. Inclusion of the doctoral level as the third cycle in the Process;

6. Promotion of closer links between the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area.

Bergen Communiqué (2005)

By May 2005, the Bologna Process extended to forty-five countries with the inclusion of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The ministers responsible for higher education met in Bergen to discuss the mid-term achievements of the Bologna Process. The Bergen Conference also marked the adoption of the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area, and the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area, It further released a series of statements on the nature of the third cycle.

In the Bergen Communiqué, ministers enlarged their priorities, which would by then include:

3.1 Reinforcing the social dimension and removing obstacles to mobility;

3.2 Implementing the standards and guidelines for quality assurance as proposed in the report of the European Association for Quality Assurance;

3.3 Developing national frameworks of qualifications in compatibility with the adopted overarching Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area;

3.4 Awarding and recognising joint degrees;

3.5 Creating opportunities for flexible learning paths in higher education, including procedures for recognition of prior learning.

London Communiqué (2007)

The London ministerial meeting, held in May 2007, provided a landmark in establishing the first legal body to be created through the Bologna Process – the European Quality Assurance Register. This was to become a register of quality assurance agencies that comply with the European Standards and Guidelines, and are therefore legitimate to work in the European Higher Education Area.

The London Conference also saw developments in two key areas – the social dimension, where ministers agreed to form national action plans with monitoring of their impact; and the global dimension, where ministers agreed on a strategy to advance the global dimension of European higher education. The country membership expanded to forty-six with the recognition of the Republic of Montenegro as independent.

Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué (2009)

In April 2009, the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve ministerial meeting took stock of the achievements of the Bologna Process and laid out the priorities for the European Higher Education Area for the next decade. Looking back to ten years of European higher education reform, ministers emphasised the achievements of the Bologna Process, highlighting in particular the increased compatibility and comparability of European education systems through the implementation of structural changes and the use of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System and the Diploma Supplement. The Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué also established the priorities for the decade until 2020.

In the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué, ministers agreed that:

• Each country should set measurable targets for widening overall participation and increasing the participation of under-represented social groups in higher education by the end of the next decade;

• By 2020 at least 20% of those graduating in the EHEA should have had a study or training period abroad;

• Lifelong learning and employability are important missions of higher education;

• Student-centred learning should be the goal of on-going curriculum reform.

Budapest-Vienna Declaration (2010)

In March 2010 the ministerial summit officially launched the European Higher Education Area as a competitive and attractive space, based on trust, co-operation and respect for the diversity of cultures, languages, and higher education systems. The meeting welcomed Kazakhstan as the seventy-fourth country to commit itself to the full and proper implementation of the agreed objectives for the next decade.

The Bologna Follow-up Group was asked to propose measures, in order to enable students and staff to be mobile, to improve teaching and learning in higher education institutions, to enhance graduate employability, to provide quality higher education for all, and to improve communication on and understanding of the Bologna Process among stakeholders and society as a whole.

Bucharest Communiqué (2012)

The Bucharest Communiqué, released in April 2012, confirmed that the Bologna Process reforms have changed the face of higher education across Europe. It emphasised, however, that countries must make additional efforts to consolidate and build on progress; and to strive for more coherence between policies, especially in completing the transition to the three cycle system, the use of ECTS credits, the issuing of Diploma Supplements, the enhancement of quality assurance and the implementation of qualifications frameworks, which should include the definition and evaluation of learning outcomes. Ministers further announced their willingness to

• Provide quality higher education for all;

• Enhance graduates’ employability;

• Strengthen mobility as a means for better learning.

Study programmes should reflect changing research priorities and emerging disciplines, and research should underpin teaching and learning. In this respect, ministers committed themselves to sustain a diversity of doctoral programmes; and to promote quality, transparency, employability and mobility in the third cycle.

Over the fifteen years under consideration, 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 thirteen countries. This priority was, however, much less prominent in 2008/09, when the focus hahad shifted to other 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 signatory countries. The general shift in national higher education policy priorities also indicates that countries have already begun to consider the European Higher Education Area a reality.

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