The Bologna Process Explained

The Bologna Club:What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction

Clifford Adelman, Senior Associate
Institute for Higher Education Policy, May 2008

“Since 1999, 46 European countries have been engaged in reconstructing their higher education systems to bring about a greater degree of “convergence,” i.e. common reference points and operating procedures to create a European Higher Education Area. This voluntary undertaking, a logical extension of the process of European integration that has been deepening since 1950—as well as a cultivation of seedlings of change in higher education that were planted in the 1990s—affects 4000 institutions and 16 million students, an enterprise comparable to the size and scope of higher education in the United States.

The undertaking is known as The Bologna Process, named for the Italian city that is home to Europe’s oldest university, where the education ministers of 29 countries first agreed to the agenda and “action lines” that would bring down education borders in the same way that economic borders had been dissolved. That means harmonization, not standardization. When these national higher education systems work with the same reference points they produce a “zone of mutual trust” that permits recognition of credentials across borders and significant international mobility for their students. Everyone is singing in the same key, though not necessarily with the same tune. In terms reaching across geography and languages, let alone in terms of turning ancient higher education systems on their heads, the Bologna Process is the most far reaching and ambitious reform of higher education ever undertaken.

What has transpired since 1999 cannot be but lightly acknowledged in the United States. While still a work in progress, parts of the Bologna Process have already been imitated in Latin America, North Africa, and Australia. The core features of the Bologna Process have sufficient momentum to become the dominant global higher education model within the next two decades. We had better listen up.”

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