European higher education is currently going through a major transformation involving more than 5600 institutions and 31 million students on the continent. Aimed at supporting mobility within Europe and the rest of the World, the Bologna Process will create, by 2010, a European Higher Education Area through adapting higher education systems so that they are more uniformly structured and their qualifications more understandable.
Though voluntary the Bolongna Process has grown from 29 countries in 1999 to 46 today. This ambitious reform process also attempts to answer some of Europe’s social and economic challenges by enhancing the quality of its education, research capacity and graduate employability.
The Bologna reforms focus on a three cycle degree structure (bachelor’s, master’s doctorate), quality assurance in higher education and recognition of qualifications and periods of study. The reforms encourage us to rethink the content of learning to make pedagogy more student centered and to consider whether a given program of study adequately addresses the needs of graduates and to consider whether graduates will acquire the knowledge skills and competencies they need to succeed in an ever changing labor market.
The Bologna Process is a part of a broader effort in the drive for a Europe of Knowledge and its success hinges on lifelong learning, student centered learning quality assurance, transparency mobility recognition and international openness.
Universities should be encouraged to open their doors to non traditional and part time learners and offers more courses for continuous professionals development. Catering to new types of learners requires fundamental rethinking of how courses are designed and delivered. New learners may not possess all formal requirements or entry into higher education but they may have acquired the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies through self study or work. More should be done to integrate these potential students into higher education.
However, not everyone shares the optimism. The Bologna Process mixes up two kinds of education (universities and polytechnics) with different goals to produce a mixture that will have neither. The distinction between these two kinds of education (research and skills) postulated a need to focus on research that is unencumbered by instrumental or utilitarian goals and by abolishing this distinction, Europe goes back to Napoleonic times where benefits (either to the individual or to the society) was the sole criterion to justify education.
Matthew Wood, director Communication European foundation for management Development (EFMD), says it is not just a question of re-labeling a traditional system of higher education. The main objective of Bolonga was to make different national system more compatible. A lot has been achieved in restructuring the system. However a lot of work remains to achieve the goals.
The Bologna Process goes beyond the European Union (EU) and involves other countries including India. Erasmus Mundus, the EU’s scholarship program for worldwide academic co-operation offers scholarships to students at all levels of university education and academic staff, with a special focus on the socio-economically disadvantaged groups.
Attributing the program’s early success to the generous funding Joachim Fronia Head of Unit Erasmus Mundus and External Cooperation says, Scholarships worth 21,000 euros per year are given to graduate students for the Erasmus Mundus joint master’s courses, which is a generous amount. Additionally, they enjoy a multidimensional experience, both in terms of education and culture as they study in more than one university across Europe.
The second phase of the program which was recently launched for 2009-2013 has expanded to include doctoral studies. A consortium of universities from Europe and other partner countries including India jointly select students and research projects. Erasmus Mundus comprises 150 master’s and 35 doctoral programs across disciplines that students can chose from.
The study programs are broadly interdisciplinary for example, color in informatics and media technology encompasses photonics computer vision and imaging science, computer science and multimedia technology as a mix of relevant theoretical and practical knowledge, and the courses is offered in partnership between four European universities. Mean while students opting for the Master’s in earthquake Engineering and Engineering Seismology will be able to acquire technical competence in both areas.
The biggest challenges however to this comparatively young scholarship program is the student visa. They are aware of the problems that students encounter while traveling from one country to another to complete their course. They are working with member states and embassies to raise awareness to make student mobility as smooth as possible..
Around 675 students and 138 scholars from India will benefit from this program for the academic year 2009-2010.Commencing on India’s participating in the success of the program. In Europe, there is a growing awareness to partake in the increasing dynamism in India due to globalization. Academia and industries in Europe feel the need to align to such dynamism for mutual benefits.
Higher education in India, too is on the threshold of change. A slew of reforms may bring about modernization and on several occasions the concerned minister has referred to the Bologna Process.
While outlining what India can learn from Bologna, one important aspect is the establishment of quality assurance measures, which should ensure that the quality of higher education delivered is comparable across countries. This is a strong incentive for Indian universities to try and implement internationally recognized quality assurance procedures which should in the end enhance the overall quality level of higher education.
Whether a similar system of higher education to encourage comparability and mobility would work for India, since India’s education system has a wide diversity , it is all the more important for a comparable and uniform system of higher education. Irrespective of the rural urban divide, or the status of colleges / institutions the way to ensure quality in higher education is uniformity. Only when the basic quality is ensured can we think of excellence.
Following the convergent impact of Bologna, European higher education is potentially in a much stronger competitive position internationally.