Opening up to the wider world
The external dimension of the Bologna Process

Hamburg, 17-19 October 2004 

Background

In 1999, the Bologna Declaration formulated the objective of “increasing the international competitiveness of the European systems of higher education”. Both Follow-up Conferences in Prague and Berlin reinforced this aspect. The Berlin Ministerial Conference welcomed representatives from other world regions, and emphasised the importance of including non-European actors in future events. Last but not least, the Bologna Follow-up group recommends a discussion on globalisation in their work programme 2003-2005, “as quality assurance and recognition go beyond the European Higher Education Area.”

Bologna is transcending the EHEA’s borders, and enhancing Europe’s attractiveness is gaining ever more importance as a vital driving force behind the Bologna Process. Nevertheless, no major international conference had so far addressed the issue as a separate theme.

Much is hidden behind the title of this ACA conference, “Opening up to the Wider World: The External Dimension of the Bologna Process”. Although mainly regarded as a European intra-governmental process, since its very beginnings, the Bologna Process has had an inherent global or “external” dimension:

  • When European Education Ministers convened in Bologna in 1999 and decided to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, one of their major motivations was to enhance the attractiveness of European higher education on a global scale. The Bologna Declaration formulated the objective of “increasing the international competitiveness of the European systems of higher education”. It stated the “need to ensure that the European higher education system acquires a world-wide degree of attraction” and “to promote” it on a global scale.
  • Two years later, the Prague Communiqué turned the issue into the additional action line “Promoting the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area”, and confirmed the “importance of enhancing attractiveness of European higher education to students from Europe and other parts of the world.”
  • At the 2003 Berlin conference, European Education Ministers welcomed the participation of government representatives from other world regions, and their interest in the development of the European Higher Education Area. Also, Ministers linked the Bologna Process to the wider context of the Lisbon Process: They too due account of the strategic objectives agreed upon at the European Councils in Lisbon and Barcelona, aiming at converting the EU into “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world” by 2010 and “a world reference for the quality and relevance of its education and training and the most-favoured destination of students, scholars and researchers from other world regions.” Finally, Ministers encouraged the “co-operation with regions in other parts of the world by opening Bologna seminars and conferences to representatives of these regions”.
  •  Last but not least, the Bologna Follow-up group recommended in their work programme 2003-2005 that “a discussion on globalisation might (…) be useful, as quality assurance and recognition go beyond the European Higher Education Area.”

Enhancing Europe’s attractiveness has remained and over the years even gained in importance as a vital driving force behind the transformation and innovation of higher education in Europe. At the same time, the remarkable changes taking place in Europe have so far been discussed mainly in an intra-European perspective. All actors in the Bologna Process have up to now simply assumed that the structural changes under way will by necessity result in an enhanced attractiveness of our continent on a world-wide scale. As a result, not too much systematic thought has so far been invested on how exactly the reforms are going to achieve this, and in which way they might have to be fine-tuned to attain this aim. In particular, no major international conference has addressed the issue as a separate theme.

The reason for this might be that the Bologna signatory states have so far been more than busy with the implementation of the internal structural reforms, not with the external aspect. Or have they? Do we actually know how many and what kind of activities have been carried out, alongside with the implementation of the Bologna structures, that go beyond the borders of the European Higher Education Area? Are there initiatives to export Bologna, to adapt credit systems to ECTS, to have the European definition of the Bachelor, Master and Doctor recognised worldwide or to use Bologna structures as models for joint degrees? How many students are actually coming to Europe from the rest of the world? To what extent is the aim of creating a transparent and attractive EHEA being achieved, judged from an outsider’s point of view? All these are questions that the Academic Cooperation Association addressed with its two-day conference “Opening up to the Wider World: The External Dimension of the Bologna Process”, which took place on 18 and 19 October 2004 at the University of Hamburg, in Germany.