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Bologna Process Ministerial Conference outlines next steps in consolidation of European Higher Education Area

30 April 2012

Last week’s Bologna Process Ministerial Conference in Bucharest gathered Ministers from across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and key stakeholder groups (including EUA) to outline the future priorities for the development of the EHEA in the context of the ongoing financial and economic crisis.

Photo: UEFISCDIEUA’s delegation, led by the EUA President, Professor Helena Nazaré, played an active role in the Conference which opened with the presentation of the new report on the implementation of the Bologna Process (a joint report by Eurostat, Eurostudent and Eurydice overseen by the Bologna Follow-Up Group), and a look at the challenges that lie ahead. This was followed by a question and answer session with representatives of the various consultative members of the Bologna Process, which gave Professor Nazaré the opportunity to put forward many of the key issues for universities underlined in EUA’s Bologna input statement.

In particular, she underlined the crucial importance of sustainable funding and enhanced autonomy for Europe’s universities, stressing also that investment in higher education should not be seen as expenditure but as an investment for Europe’s future. She also pointed out that higher education was not just about providing employability skills for graduates but about pursuing research-based teaching and learning in a supportive environment that also promoted critical and independent thinking.

Prior to the finalisation of the Communiqué there were lengthy discussions among delegates on the vital question of the future funding of higher education. EUA, together with a number of other stakeholders, argued strongly for a firm commitment in the Communiqué to recognition of the crucial role of sustainable public funding. Therefore, EUA welcomes the fact that the Communiqué stresses that higher education should be at the “heart of our efforts to overcome the crisis” and urges governments now to follow up on the commitment “to securing the highest possible level of public funding for higher education and drawing on other appropriate sources, as an investment in our future”.

Looking to the future development of the EHEA, the Communiqué underlines that further efforts are required to consolidate and build on the achievements of the last decade, referring in particular to the need to widen overall access, raise completion rates and continue efforts to improve student-centred learning. EUA is also pleased to see that the need to strengthen the link between research and teaching is recognised as is the role of doctoral education in bridging the EHEA and the European Research Area (citing EUA’s Salzburg II Recommendations).

Considerable importance is also attached to strengthening mobility across the EHEA and Ministers also adopted a separate mobility strategy for the EHEA. This strategy further elaborates the target agreed at the 2009 Ministerial Conference whereby at least 20 percent of those graduating in Europe in 2020 should have spent a study or training period abroad.

A similarly important signal for the future of the EHEA is the continued attention paid by Ministers to enhancing the quality of European higher education. Specifically on the issue of quality assurance, Ministers recognised the E4 group’s (ENQA, ESU, EUA, EURASHE) report on the implementation and application of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG). As requested by the E4, the Communiqué confirms that the group will put forward a proposal for the revision of the ESG with the cooperation of Education International, Business Europe and the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education.

The Ministerial Conference in Romania was again held in conjunction with the Bologna Policy Forum, which seeks to intensify policy dialogue and cooperation with partners outside the EHEA. The theme of this third forum was "Beyond the Bologna process: Creating and connecting national, regional and global higher education spaces”. At the end of the Forum a common statement was adopted covering the main themes addressed.

The statement and all background documents can be downloaded on the EHEA Conference website.

The next Bologna Process Ministerial Meeting will take place in Yerevan, Armenia, in 2015.

Photo: UEFISCDI

European University Association (EUA)

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