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Bologna Ministerial Conference: European identity, Academic Freedom and Social inclusion in focus

On 24 and 25 May the 2018 Bologna Ministerial conference took place in Paris, under the organisational wing of France, which took over the Bologna Secretariat after the 2015 conference in Yerevan. This year’s gathering left an impression of a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for cooperation within and outside the EHEA in light of the achievements in the past 20 years since the Sorbonne declaration. The conference gathered more than 70 ministers of education and an audience of more than 500 high-level representatives of governments, European and international associations, higher education institutions, and other higher education stakeholders. 

The definite red thread in both documents adopted at the conference - the Paris Communiqué and the Statement of the Fifth Bologna Policy Forum (BPF) - was a) an emphasis on the social and civic responsibility of higher education (institutions) and b) strong support for the peer learning approach, which so far has been the modus operandi within the EHEA, and which will be introduced in cooperation between EHEA and non-EHEA countries, i.e. as part of the BPF work. 

The Paris Communiqué calls for firmer commitment to and protection of fundamental values such as academic freedom and integrity, institutional autonomy, public responsibility and participation of students and staff in HE governance – some of which have been challenged in certain EHEA countries, and it further emphasises the social responsibility of higher education. Digitalisation, innovative approaches and the quality in teaching and learning remain a strong focus of the EHEA community and the importance of lifelong learning for its social and academic inclusiveness, drawing from the Ministers’ statements at the conference. 

Uneven progress in the implementation of the Bologna commitments remains a challenge, as well as the need for more inclusiveness, European-level quality assurance of joint programmes and the usual suspect – recognition, with particular emphasis on persons with a refugee background in the aftermath of the “refugee crisis”. More details can be found in the separate article on the Bologna implementation report here.

In light of the three key commitments

  • Three-cycle system compatible with the EHEA qualifications framework
  • Compliance with the Lisbon Recognition Convention
  • Quality assurance in line with the European Standards and Guidelines

the accompanying adopted measures comprise a revised Diploma Supplement, the adoption of short-cycle qualifications as a stand-alone qualification level within EHEA qualifications framework, and the document on the structured peer support approach in the implementation of the three above key commitments, plus the Belarus strategy 2018-2020 in light of the country’s recent joining of the EHEA. 

The vision of the EHEA beyond 2020 is one of more ambition in terms of innovation, cross-border cooperation and all three missions of higher education: more cross-disciplinarity, much stronger links between higher education and research and the two respective areas – EHEA and the European Research Area (ERA), stronger social dimension of higher education and inclusion of disadvantaged groups and equally, EHEA’s global outreach and cooperation with non-EHEA regions and institutions. One of the guiding stars of the conference was the Macron-sparked idea of European university networks, which has been strongly endorsed by the EHEA community and as repeatedly stressed, such university alliances should not focus solely on the EU, but go further to at least include the 48 EHEA countries. 

More information about the Ministerial conference can be found here 

Paris Communiqué here 

Bologna Policy Forum statement here