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The 2012 Bologna Process Implementation Report

In preparation of the 2012 meeting of ministers responsible for higher education in Bucharest in April, Eurostat, Eurydice and Eurostudent came out with yet another report measuring the success and progress of the implementation of the Bologna reforms. The 200+-pages volume is structured into seven chapters, on “context” (student population, institutions and expenditure); degrees and qualifications; quality assurance; the ‘social dimension’; outcomes and employability; lifelong learning; and mobility.

As a “preliminary remark”, the report notes that public expenditure has on average decreased across the Bologna countries, though there have been increases in single countries.  Access to higher education has in most countries increased, but there are problem groups, for example first generation migrants and – increasingly - males. “The Bologna tools” are now mostly in place. In 39 of the 47 countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), over 70% of all students study in a two-cycle system.  Quality assurance is found to have seen “rapid changes” (i.e. more of it) and the implementation of ECTS to be almost completed. Only the introduction of national qualifications frameworks appears to be slow and cumbersome. However, the report also stresses that the formal introduction of the above tools is not always coupled with their proper and shared understanding.

The assessment of study outcomes and the employability of graduates met with problems. Data on study outcomes (measured by completion and attainment) were only available for a minority of countries. Educational attainment of students of parents with low education levels slightly increased, though parental education level remains a strong predictor for student attainment. On employment, the study non-sensationally confirms that a higher education degree is a good safeguard against unemployment. But it also finds that unemployment amongst new tertiary graduates is higher than earlier (which is most probably linked to the present financial and economic crisis).

A comparative evaluation of progress in lifelong learning was difficult due to the absence of a shared understanding of the concept in EHEA countries. In the area of mobility, the researchers express their delight about the adoption of the 20% target in 2009. They note that the provision of “joint programmes” expanded rapidly, but that this does not apply to the sub-group of “joint degrees”, due to legislative and administrative hurdles. Almost tongue-in-cheek, the authors indicate that balanced mobility in the EHEA might be difficult to achieve.