From 1999 to 2019: 20 years of European debate, development, and achievements
This paper suggests that, although the Bologna process officially began in the late 1990s, the conditions that made it possible had already been created in the previous decade through the growing practice of international academic cooperation, mainly triggered by EU inter-institutional programmes. As the need for structural reforms in some higher education systems became more evident, in 1999 the Ministers of Education of 29 European countries gathered in Bologna to start a process of voluntary convergence of their systems with the objective of creating a European Higher Education Area. In the last 20 years the participating governments (now 48), with the support of international organizations and major stakeholders, have jointly developed a common framework of principles, actions, policies and tools. Accordingly, different types of structural reforms have taken place in the various countries. At present, however, implementation of the key commitments – full adoption of the three-cycle structure and ECTS, of the Lisbon recognition convention and the Diploma supplement, and of QA systems based on the European standards and guidelines – is still uneven in the EHEA and a peer-support approach was adopted by the ministers last year. Concerning the implementation issue, this paper raises two sets of questions. First: to what extent have the structural reforms implemented by the governments really affected grassroots educational activities? How deeply have the underlying principles – like student-centred learning – been implemented in actual programme design and everyday teaching/learning practice? Second: although inspired by the same basic principles, are EHEA-induced reforms actually being implemented consistently throughout European countries and institutions? Deeper involvement and more international coordination of European academics is advocated in the paper, in order to face these challenges and consolidate the EHEA in the years to come.
Received: 03 April 2019
Accepted: 02 May 2019
Published online: 29 May 2019
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