A common vision

In Bologna in 1999 the Ministers of Education of 29 countries agreed on a common vision of a European Higher Education Area. They found that this vision was politically relevant for their own countries and translated it into the operational goals listed in the Bologna Declaration.

The key elements of the European Higher Education Area envisaged at that time were:

  • European countries with different political, cultural and academic traditions would engage in cooperation to reach a shared objective;
  • European students and graduates would be able to move easily from one country to another with full recognition of qualifications and periods of study, and access to the European labor market;
  • European Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) would be able to cooperate and exchange students/staff on bases of trust and confidence and also of transparency and quality;
  • European governments would fit their national higher education reforms into a broader European context;
  • Higher Education (HE) in the European region would increase its international competitiveness, as well as enter into dialogue and improve cooperation with HE in other regions of the world.

In the past 15 years the Bologna Process, through voluntary convergence and an intergovernmental approach, has led to the construction of the main pillars of the European Higher Education Area:

  • A common framework, which includes the overarching Framework for Qualifications of the EHEA, a common credit system (ECTS), common principles for the development of student-centered learning, the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance, a common Register of QA Agencies, a common approach to recognition, and a common body of methodologies and sustainable achievements produced by European HEIs.
  • A number of common tools, namely, the ECTS Users’ Guide, the Diploma Supplement, the Lisbon Recognition Convention.

Source: The Bologna Process revisited - The Future of the European Higher Education Area, 2015. Part 1 - Looking back: 15 years of convergence.
The Bologna Process revisited: The Future of the European Higher Education Area

From the Sorbonne Declaration to the European Higher Education Area

Four education ministers participating in the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the University of Paris (Sorbonne Joint Declaration, 1998) shared the view that the segmentation of the European higher education sector in Europe was outdated and harmful. The decision to engage in a voluntary process to create the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was formalized one year later in Bologna, by 30 countries (The Bologna Declaration, 1999).

At its inception, the Bologna Process was meant to stregthen the competitiveness and attractiveness of the European higher education and to foster student mobility and employability through the introduction of a system based on undergraduate and postgraduate studies with easily readable programmes and degrees. Quality assurance has played an important role from the outset, too.

However, the various ministerial meetings since 1999 have broadened this agenda and have given greater precision to the tools that have been developed. The undergraduate/postgraduate degree structure has been modified into a three-cycle system, which now includes the concept of qualifications frameworks, with an emphasis on learning outcomes. The concept of social dimension of higher education has been introduced and recognition of qualifications is now clearly perceived as central to the European higher education policies. In brief, the evolution of the main objectives of the Bologna Process can be seen hereby.

The Sorbonne Declaration

The Sorbonne Declaration was signed in 1998, by the ministers of four countries, namely France, Germany, Uk and Italy. The aim of the Declaration was to create a common frame of reference within the intended European Higher Education Area, where mobility should be promoted both for students and graduates, as well as for the teaching staff. Also, it was meant to ensure the promotion of qualifications, with regard to the job market.

The Bologna Declaration

The aims of the Sorbonne Declaration were confirmed in 1999, through the Bologna Declaration, where 29-30 countries expressed their willingness to commit to enhance the competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area, emphasising the need to further the independence and autonomy of all Higher Education Institutions. All the provisions of the Bologna Declaration were set as measures of a voluntary harmonisation process, not as clauses of a binding contract.

As follow-up to the Bologna Declaration, there have taken place Ministerial Conferences every two years, the ministers expressing their will through the respective Communiqués.

The Prague Communiqué

With the Prague Communiqué, in 2001, the number of member countries was enlarged to 33, and there has also taken place an expansion of the objectives, in terms of lifelong learning, involving students as active partners and enhancing the attractiveness and competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area. Also, the participating ministers committed themselves to ensure the further development of quality assurance and development of national qualification frameworks. This objective was correlated with the lifelong learning one, as it is considered an important element of higher education that must be taken into consideration when building up new systems. Also, it is important to mention that the topic of social dimension was first introduced in the Prague Communiqué.

The Berlin Communiqué

The following Ministerial Conference took place in Berlin, in 2003, thus the Berlin Communiqué enlarging the number of countries to 40 members. The main provisions of this Communiqué dealt with an expansion of the objectives, in terms of promotion of linking European Higher Education Area to European Research Area, as well as the promotion of quality assurance. Another important aspect that the Berlin Communiqué stated referred to establishing the follow-up structures supporting the process in-between two Ministerial meetings. This arrangement established the Bologna Follow-up Group, the Board and the Bologna Secretariat.

With this Communiqué the Ministers also agreed that there should be created a national follow-up structure in each of the participating countries.

The Bergen Communiqué

The Bergen Communiqué, of 2005, underlined the importance of partnerships, including stakeholders – students, HEIs, academic staff and employers, together with the further enhancing of research, especially with regard to the third cycle – doctoral programmes. Also, this Communiqué stressed the ministers’ will to provide a more accessible higher education, together with an increased attractiveness of the EHEA to other parts of the world.

The London Communiqué

With the London Communiqué, of 2007, the number of participating countries was enlarged to 46. This Communiqué focused on evaluating the progress achieved by that time, concerning mobility, degree structure, recognition, qualifications frameworks (both overarching and national), lifelong learning, quality assurance, social dimension, and also set the priorities for 2009, these being, mainly, mobility, social dimension, which was defined here for the first time, data collection, employability, EHEA in a global context and stock taking. For 2010 and beyond, it was stressed that there is the need for further collaboration, seeing it as an opportunity to reformulate the visions and values.

The Leuven / Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué

In the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué, of 2009, the main working areas for the next decade were set, with emphasis on: social dimension, lifelong learning, employability, student centred learning and the teaching mission of education, international openness, mobility, education, research & innovation, as well as data collection, funding of the HE and multidimensional transparency tools. These main working areas show a new orientation of the Bologna Process, towards a more in-depth approach of the reforms, thus ensuring the completion of the Bologna Process implementation. Another change, in terms of internal arrangements, referred to the Bologna Process Chairing procedure: from a previous situation where the Bologna Process had been chaired by the country holding the EU Presidency, to a situation according to which the Process is being chaired by two countries: both the country holding the EU Presidency and a non-EU country, named in alphabetical order, starting from July 1st, 2010.

The Budapest / Vienna Communiqué

In March 2010, with the Budapest-Vienna Ministerial Conference, the EHEA has been expanded to 47 countries, the most recently admitted being Kazakhstan.

The Budapest/Vienna Conference was the Anniversary Conference, celebrating a decade of the Bologna Process. With this occasion, there took place the official launching of the European Higher Education Area, which meant that, in terms of a common European framework for HE, the objective set in the Bologna Declaration was accomplished.

However, the existence of the European Higher Education Area in itself did not mean an achievement of all the objectives agreed upon by the ministers involved in the Bologna Process. Therefore, in 2010 the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area have entered a new phase, namely the consolidation and operationalisation one, especially in light of the very different reactions to the Bologna Process implementation across Europe.

Disclamer: This text is part of the “Bologna beyond 2010 – Report on the development of the European Higher Education Area, Backgroung Paper for the Bologna Follow-up Group prepared by the Benelux Bologna Secretariat -, Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Ministerial Conference, 28-29 April 2009”.
Bologna Beyond 2010 (report 2009)

New goals

The Bucharest Communiqué

The main message of the Bucharest Ministerial Conference, which took place on 26 - 27 April 2012 and was attended by 47 European ministers responsible for higher education, states that Higher education reform can help to get Europe back on track and generate sustainable growth and jobs.

The Ministers agreed to focus on three main goals in the face of the economic crisis: to provide quality higher education to more students, to better equip students with employable skills, and to increase student mobility.

The 47 countries adopted a new European strategy to increase mobility with a specific target that at least 20 percent of those graduating in Europe in 2020 should have been on a study or training period abroad.

The Yerevan Communiqué

The Yerevan Ministerial Conference took place on 14-15 May 2015.

The Ministers welcome Belarus as the 48th member of the EHEA and look forward to working with the national authorities and stakeholders to implement the reforms identified by the BFUG and included in the agreed road map attached to Belarusian accession. Ministers ask the BFUG to report on the implementation of the roadmap in time for the 2018 ministerial conference.

Several policy measures were adopted during the Conference:

  • the revised Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG);
  • the European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes;
  • the revised ECTS Users’ Guide, as an official EHEA document.

The Yerevan Communiqué recognize that the vision of Bologna inspired successfully the European Higher Education Area. Nonetheless, continuing improvement of the higher education systems and greater involvement of academic communities are necessary to achieve the full potential of the EHEA.

We must renew our original vision and consolidate the EHEA structure.
The governance and working methods of the EHEA must develop to meet [new] challenges.

By 2020 the members are determined to achieve an EHEA where the common goals are implemented in all member countries:

  • Enhancing the quality and relevance of learning and teaching;
  • Fostering the employability of graduates throughout their working lives;
  • Making the systems more inclusive;
  • Implementing agreed structural reforms.