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dimanche 31 juillet 2011

Lessons from the Bologna process in Europe

Many readers will be familiar with the EU and other experiments in European nation-building, but perhaps not be aware of the seismic changes in higher education that extend far beyond the EU boundaries. The most significant of these has occurred through the Bologna process.

Signed in 1999 by 29 countries (now 47), the Bologna declaration called for a bold 'European' vision in response to the challenges of global competition. It recognized the need to enhance the employability of its citizens and to foster a culture of innovation. Higher education in a European context was seen as the central foundation for this.

With a mixture of top-down and bottom-up initiatives and a focus on students and the quality of learning outcomes, it was agreed that there was a need for greater standardization of the structure of higher education, including the length of degrees, as well as the processes to evaluate and recognize one another's credentials. This has now occurred as has a eurospheric structure for quality assurance. Significant mobility of students and faculty has followed and many university-to-university partnerships have ensued. In addition many governments have increased their investments in higher education and training with a particular focus on life long learning.

Much still needs to be done to increase accessibility, redefine the accountability of universities and strengthen the linkage between teaching and research. These are the same challenges we face in Canada. However, we have enjoyed more standardization and ease of credit transfers than is still to be found within the Bologna signatories.

The integration of higher education in Europe has not gone unchallenged because of its greater use of English as a medium of instruction, as well as shifts in traditional university academic governance. However, the proponents of Bologna have an even broader vision and want to reach out to other countries to collaborate and achieve more of a global higher education culture. As a result there are opportunities for Canadian universities to broaden and increase their research partnerships and to think seriously about joint graduate degrees.

At the policy level, Canada is currently engaged in a series of trade deals to diversify its trade relations, and these include the EU. However, it is unfortunate that the EU - Canada Agreement on Higher Education and Training, which has been in existence since 1995, may not been renewed.

I appreciate that in Canada education is a provincial responsibility. But within the ever-expanding borders of Bologna, governments have not given up their responsibilities; rather they have adopted a shared vision for the importance of higher education in their own as well as collective futures.

Global competition is a reality and not just from China, India and Brazil, but the other emerging "wannabe" economies. All are investing heavily in higher education. What the Bologna declaration has done across Europe is recognize the importance of higher education in facing this competition. It has elevated the discussion beyond simply one country competing with another, to developing a pan-European response. It has shown how countries can co-operate for a common good.

Even if we do not wish to embrace the overtures from Europe, we can learn from their experiences to develop a national vision for higher education and a pan-provincial response on how we will meet the global competitive challenges.

J. Colin Dodds is president of Saint Mary's University and a professor of finance in the Sobey School of Business. He can be reached at
Published Friday July 29th, 2011

Published Friday July 29th, 2011

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