An evolutionary process towards unchanged objectives

By Stefan Delplace, former Secretary-General of EURASHE


On 29-30 May 2024, Ministers and stakeholders involved in the Bologna higher education reform process meet again for a bi- or triannual event, both the culmination of past joint efforts and a summary of work in progress. They will agree on a roadmap for the next three years, and further outline the goals for the current decade.

The ‘Road to Tirana’ webinar recently organised by EURASHE brought together the key representatives of three main stakeholders in the European HE reform process, namely the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), the European Students’ Union (ESU), and EURASHE. Each of these stakeholders developed their expectations for the upcoming ministerial meeting, reflecting their main policy objectives.

For ENQA, the main concrete realisation of the Bologna Process is a European-level quality assurance, primarily through the development and implementation of the ESG for QA, jointly by QA professionals, students and HEIs with an academic and professional orientation, thus covering the entire spectrum of European higher education.

ENQA points at the usefulness of frameworks that will further accompany countries towards full implementation of the commonly agreed priorities. An example is the proposed revision of the European Approach for joint degrees (and programmes), which so far met with limited success, in parallel with the expressed intention to revise the ESG for QA, now fully endorsed by all parties.

Among the ENQA membership there is no full agreement on whether or how to enlarge the scope of the ESG, but the original support for mobility (and the overarching internationalisation) remains strong. There are the discussions of old about the required balance between the ESG as a tool for guidance and a set of criteria for compliance. Former unequivocal beliefs are now questioned, such as the added value of external QA for HEI.  Clearly the same topics on quality assurance remain relevant as before for European higher education stakeholders.                

In 2020, ESU reconfirmed its commitment to make the EHEA inclusive, innovative and interconnected by 2030. The adoption of the Principles and Guidelines for the Social Dimension at the Rome 2020 ministerial meeting was decisive, in that it was the first comprehensive set of such commitments for the EHEA after 20 years of non-binding engagements on this issue. The design of Indicators and Descriptors for the Principles of SD in the format of a toolbox, shows a willingness to break away from non- or partial implementation of earlier ‘Bologna’ commitments in the field of social dimension.

Also stakeholder organisations may evolve over time, as for example ESU now claims to feel more concerned for the mature student, in line with an age shift in the student population.

There is generally, in ESU’s view, a renewed sense of urgency to finally move towards implementation in key issues for countries and stakeholders and go beyond the lack of political will, which was a flaw of the first and second decades of the Bologna Process.

EURASHE, as the unquestioned voice of professional HE expresses its confidence in the organisation’s multiple role in the European HE landscape, and feels comfortable about the complementarity of the EHEA and the European Education Area (EEA) objectives. While the former is now taken for granted by all parties in the HE reform process, the latter indeed has the possibility of creating more targeted and diversely relevant connections with society and the organisation’s broad groups of stakeholders.