On 25 May, European education ministers adopted the Paris Communiqué at the Bologna Process Ministerial Conference.
It takes on topics already discussed in the Yerevan Communiqué such as implementation, learning and teaching, digitalisation and academic and civic values. This time, however, they are addressed in a more assertive and detailed fashion. For example, regarding implementation, a mechanism will support individual countries in improving in the three key-commitment areas: recognition, quality assurance, and the three-cycle system.
Over the past three years, the Bologna Process has had difficult discussions on risks and challenges for academic freedom and higher education autonomy. For the first time, the Bologna Process Implementation Report covers these topics. Apart from concrete examples of violations in Hungary, Russia and Turkey, the Process will have to develop a more systematic approach to assessing higher education values in the participating countries.
A long section of the Communiqué is on learning and teaching, including the impact of digitalisation. The Bologna Process acknowledges the role and responsibility of institutions in innovation and transformation. However, it is still to be seen how the Bologna Process itself can provide added value to this. Success may depend on its ability to tap knowledge and experience created by networks of institutions and associations all over Europe.
For the first time, the Sustainable Development Goals are mentioned in the Communiqué, also in view of the exchanges between the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and other parts of the world.
The Paris Ministerial Conference attracted a relatively high number of ministers from Bologna countries and elsewhere. Many discussed the challenges that their systems face, and how they are addressing them.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe spoke candidly about some of the problems in the French higher education system and how the Bologna Process has helped in addressing them. He also called for a “bataille de l’intelligence collectivement” in view of rising populism and global challenges.
EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics discussed the goal of creating a “European Education Area”, which the EU announced in late 2017, and which is not related to the Bologna Process or the European Higher Education Area. According to Navracsics, the initiative would provide EU member states with opportunities to move forward faster in addressing common challenges and could inspire other EHEA countries. He also emphasised the European Commission’s continued participation in and support to the Bologna Process, in particular with the regard to the new implementation approach.
EUA Board member Michael Murphy called for more funding for the education mission, but also for more research on education. He also invited participants to acknowledge and consider the rich innovation potential that Europe’s diverse higher education community holds. Murphy further discussed the dilemma of strengthening the link between research and teaching, in view of distinctive policies and funding mechanisms that instil competition between the two areas. EUA also issued a statement before the conference that provides recommendations for the further development of the EHEA and the Bologna Process.
The Bologna Policy Forum welcomed ministers and organisations from other parts of the world and resulted in a statement on citizenship and social inclusion. For the first time in history, this Forum was fully integrated into the conference, allowing European and international participants to remain together for the debate. This had been a request of EUA for many years and was successfully demonstrated in Paris.
In June, the responsibility for the Bologna Secretariat will be passed from France to Italy. The next Ministerial Conference will take place in Rome in 2020. How the process will continue beyond 2020 is not formally outlined, but there is an optimistic attitude among participating parties.