Archive for March, 2010

Bologna Agreement Under attack

March 7, 2010

Update extracts from University World News

By Makki Marseilles

Education Ministers from 46 countries in Europe will meet in Vienna this week (week 6, 2010) to mark the 10th anniversary of the Bologna Agreement, which proposed a European Higher Education Area where students and graduates could move freely between countries using prior qualifications in one country as acceptable entry requirements for further study in another.

Undoubtedly a great deal of progress has been recorded in the last decade on higher education in Europe, in particular the promotion of mobility and lifelong learning instruments and programmes, as well as vocational education and training, adult learning, innovation and creativity, and the dissemination and exploitation of results.

Although the process is not an EU initiative, it is actively supported by the EU and is closely connected with EU policies and programmes. It does, however, go far beyond the EU borders and is part of a broader effort to make Europe a significant competitor to the best education systems in the world, and particularly the United States and Asia.

The EU actively supports a large number of measures calculated to improve the content and practices of higher education institutions, not only among the 27 member states but also the neighbouring countries.

It also promotes the modernisation agenda of universities through implementation of the 7th EU Framework Programme for Research and the Competitive and Innovation Programme, as well as making available structural funds and loans from the European Investment Bank.

Not everyone, however, is enamoured with the Bologna declaration and some education experts do not hesitate to describe the Bologna process as a neo-liberal attempt to impose the logic of the marketplace on higher education and promote it as a commodity.

Detractors of Bologna claim the process failed to achieve the agreed goals for improved mobility. The pressure to finish studies in a “regular amount of time” militates against staying abroad and the rigidity of the studies has impeded the desired mobility between universities.

The three-cycle structure has led to greater social selection and constriction of individuality. The bachelor programme is designed to provide a precarious workforce while students, and particularly women, find it difficult to get access to the masters and PhD degree programmes.

Critics also claim that university autonomy is restricted, free education is replaced by ‘efficiency’ and ‘achievement’ principles eventually lead to a lower educated workforce.

Instead of providing solutions for the chronic under-funding of universities, institutions are told to open up to private financing with a consequent loss of independence and direct influence by private firms on teaching and research.

The introduction of, or increase in, tuition fees, managerial concepts and a lack of democracy within the university system are an obvious symptom suggesting supporters of Bologna perceive education as only producing a workforce dictated by the market.

Accordingly, opponents will also gather in Vienna during the Ministerial Conference for a mass counter-conference to protest against what they see as a sell-out of higher education to capital and its subordination to a competitive market.

Check for further information:

Full report on the University World News site

Povl Tiedemann

March 2010

Erasmus Mundus gets good marks

March 2, 2010

By Alan Osborn, University World news

The European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus programme of 2004-08, designed to promote the EU as a global ‘centre of excellence’ in learning, has been judged a success though changes in financing may have to be made if it is to continue in its present form.

The view of an independent, external evaluation team is that the 2004-08 programme has been effective in achieving its stated objectives and has created a significant community-added value.

The EUR300 million (US$421 million) project succeeded in bringing together some of the best higher education institutions in the EU to offer 103 new and innovative joint masters programmes, which were unlikely to have been created without the programme, the team’s report says.

But it acknowledges that a majority of coordinators and partners currently participating in Erasmus Mundus do not believe the courses they are involved in could continue in their present form without continued EU funding.

As the longer-term sustainability of Erasmus Mundus was likely to require a reduction in the level of EU funding for scholarships attached to individual courses, the report says it is clear that solutions other than the ‘status quo’ had to be found if many courses were to continue.

The commission said it agreed with the need to ensure the sustainability of courses and had put a strong accent on this in the first call of the new 2009-13 programme. But it added that “the commission deems it necessary to reflect further on the future of the scholarships system.

“For example, this may in future become separated from the support given to excellent courses, with scholarships attributed as a function of the courses’ capacity to attract students.”

Erasmus Mundus offers financial support for institutions and scholarships for individuals covering masters and doctorates. The report says these masters programmes are considered to be of high quality by academics and current and former Erasmus Mundus students consulted during the evaluation.

They have also generally managed to attract large numbers of applications from third-country students, its report says.

The evaluation team commented that while the geographical distribution of participating institutions was broadly balanced, institutions from new member states remained proportionally under-represented.

The high academic level and content of courses was the characteristic most frequently seen by course coordinators to add value over and above mainstream or domestic masters courses in the same discipline.

But although the general standard of support to students and academic facilities was rated highly, the evaluation suggests that, in some cases, more could be done to improve coherence between the curricula taught at different participating institutions and the different training paths offered to students.

“More structured formats, with common courses and a more limited number of study tracks, can facilitate course integration. Moreover courses have frequently encountered difficulties in recruiting the expected numbers of EU students… this was often because of the level of fees charged by the courses …and the absence of scholarships for EU students in the 2004-2008 programmeā€¯.

Povl Tiedemann

March 2010