On 19 June 1999, the ministries of higher education from 29 European countries met in Bologna to underwrite an important agreement. That document, known as the Declaration of Bologna, initiated an important and presently irreversible process to harmonize the various European systems of higher education: the Bologna Process.
The main objective of the Bologna Process is the formation of a European Area of Higher Education and the promotion of the European system of higher education on a worldwide scale in order to increase its international competitiveness. In order to achieve the harmonization of the European university systems, the Declaration of Bologna designated six principal objectives of whose realisation will be monitored and directed via a series of Follow-Up Conferences proceeding until 2010.
In the coming year, the European Union must face a growing number of new and difficult challenges: globalisation, integration of several new members, as well as the transformation of Europe into an economic area founded upon knowledge. In order to successfully confront these challenges, it is of utmost importance now to encourage scientific and cultural exchanges at all levels and to allow for the maximum mobility of qualified workers, students, and researchers.
It is necessary, therefore, to have a harmonization of the university systems that, with respect to the diverse cultures and academic traditions, facilitates the recognition of university qualifications, have the possibility to issue joint-degree, favours the mobility of students and researchers, and thus to enlarge the horizons of the labour market on a European scale.
In the Declaration of Bologna, the central role that education holds in the realisation of this project is recognised, as defined in the course of the European Union summit held in Lisbon in 2000 and in Barcelona in 2002. This recognition has the intent to create in Europe within the next decade an economic area more competitive on the global scale and a more dynamic scientific system in the world, with bigger and better employment possibilities and a larger social cohesion. Education, in particular higher education, represents a powerful axis but also the most delicate aspect in this ambitious project. The so-called Bologna Process constitutes without a doubt the principal tool for the attainment of the elevated standards of quality in the sphere of education.
The Declaration of Bologna has defined six objectives, to be carried out by 2010.
- Adoption of a system of qualification readily legible and compatible, also by means of the implementation of a Diploma Supplement.
- Adoption of a system founded upon a two-cycle system, that is a 1st and 2nd level. Entrance to 2nd level cycle will require the completion of a 1st cycle of study, of whose duration cannot be less than three years.
- Consolidation of a system of academic credits - based on the ECTS system -that can be acquired in diverse disciplinary contexts.
- Promotion of mobility (for students, lecturers, researchers and technical-administrative personnel) by means of removing obstacles for the full exercise of free circulation.
- Promotion of European cooperation concerning the assessment of quality.
- Promotion of an indispensable European dimension of higher education: development of degree plans, cooperation between university institutions, mobility programmes, integrated studies plans, development and research.
The Declaration of Bologna was preceded by a significant debate on the role of the university in the development of the cultural dimensions of Europe.
Two fundamental stages were the "Convention on the recognition of qualifications regarding higher education in the European region," signed in Lisbon in April, 1997 by the ministries of education of numerous countries (not only EU), and "The joint declaration of the Sorbonne on the harmonization of the architecture of the European system of higher education," underwritten 25 May 1998 in Paris by the ministries of higher education of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
In the latter document the four ministries demonstrated alliance on the opportunity "to realise a common European area of higher education, where the national identities and the communal interests could be integrated and mutually enforced to the benefit of Europe, the students, and more in general, the European citizens." At the conclusion they hoped that "other member countries of the EU and other European countries" would unite in the project.
The course towards the realisation of the fixed objectives of the Declaration of Bologna must be gradual and guided with careful attention. The main role of the Bologna Process is precisely that of moving and directing the reforms and structures forward over the long term.
The conviction that the construction of a European Area of Higher Education is a process to which a plurality of subjects must participate and that calls for a monitoring and a constant adaptation has prompted the decision to hold inter-governmental reunions every two years.
More information on the Follow-Up Conferences