After Bologna was hijacked…
Author: Jo Ritzen
Project: Conference: the Future of European universities after Bologna
Expertise: Higher Education and Economic Growth in Europe

After Bologna was hijacked by the Nation States:
A European Statute?

Contribution to Conference: The Future of the European Universities after Bologna

Brussels, Dec. 13th, 2010

Jo Ritzen
President Maastricht University

Table of contents

1. New avenues are needed for an European Knowledge Union
2. Sustainable growth requires an European Higher Education Area
3. Bologna was hijacked
4. New avenues
5. Conclusion

1. New avenues are needed for an European Knowledge Union

Europe’s progress is more than ever dependent on the quality and quantity of its higher education. The quality can be enhanced by a European Higher Education Area in which universities reach higher quality levels through cross-border competition and where student mobility is increased in such a way that graduates function better on the European labor market (or more in general on the international labor market).
In this way a truly emerging European Higher Education Area (EHEA) could be a substantial force for higher sustainable economic growth in Europe. This is elaborated in section 2.
The EHEA is accomplished jointly with a European Area for Research and Innovation. Reducing the borderlines in research and innovation within Europe (like through the European Research Council) will raise the already high productivity of European research and contribute to a new renaissance in both research and innovation showing in Fielt medals and Nobel prizes, but also in new businesses.
The Bologna agreement was a welcome step in the development of an European Higher Education Area, when European Governments did not have the vision of the courage or to include higher education in the European treaties, despite the awareness that the EU would only retain its vitality if it were a knowledge union and not one of milk, wine and olive oil. The Bologna agreement acted as ‘soft law’ creating potentially a joint structure for higher education in a three level bachelor – master – PhD BaMa structure system, not just for the EU, but for all countries which signed on to the Bologna agreement.

But Bologna was hijacked by the nation states which signed on to the Bologna agreement as we find in section 3. The signatories implemented the BaMa structure in their own way with different lengths for the same bachelor or master degree courses and with different standards for accreditation and quality control. The mobility of students between countries remained low as a result, much lower than the intended 20%. There is hardly any sign as yet of cross border competition between universities (maybe with the exception of a fully English speaking university like Maastricht).
At the same time, some EU Governments look with suspicion at the slight increase in mobility in so far as it means that national Governments have pay for the students who move in from other countries.

The slight increase in student mobility in the first decade of the 21st century – which was hoped for through the implementation of the Bologna agreement, came mostly through the Erasmus Exchange program and the Erasmus Mundus program. Both programs have functioned well in the absence of a more extensive role for the EU in higher education. But – as section 3 describes – they also have reached saturation levels and it is not to be expected that they will lead to a further increase in student mobility in the EU.
So we are stuck in many ways in creating a EU of knowledge with substantial cross-border competition between universities and substantial mobility. New avenues are needed. In this contribution – in section 4 – we advocate a number of different new avenues:
– an European Statute for a limited number of universities, so that these can operate under the same legislative framework;
– European finance for net immigration of foreign EU students as a way to increase competition between national university systems;
– European scholarship / loans schemes as well as European pension schemes for academic staff
In this way the EHEA can again become a interesting perspective to promote a European knowledge union which brings new progress to the European citizen.

2. Sustainable growth requires an European Higher Education Area

The fall of the Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union created a new Europe. The proximity of values and cultures, even of languages made for the new idea of a vital Europe that could – as one Union – be among the most attractive regions in the world, in a period where the old colonial powers were losing much of their glamour as world leaders. Size wise the old European countries which had been world leaders for centuries did not amount to more than 1% (with the exception of Germany with 1.1%) of the world population each. But in economic performance they ranked among the top (in overall terms, not just in per capita terms). Yet, the nineties of the 20st century and the first decade of the 21st century saw the emergence of the BRIC’s in sheer size of their economies and the subsequent translation in political power. The G8 was quietly replaced by the G20. The economic crisis of 2009 turned out to be one of the US and Europe (with some effects on Africa), but it hardly affected the BRIC’s.
The education ministers of the European community who met with their counterparts of Central and Eastern Europe in Warchau in 1992 could not know that within two decades the leadership position of the old European powers would dwindle. But they did realize jointly with their colleagues of Central and Eastern Europe that a European Higher Education Area would bring new welfare to Europe. The ministers were received by the Polish Prime Minister in the hall where the Warchau pact was agreed upon. In jest the education ministers proposed the new “Warchau pact” to be the start of the European Higher Education Area at that moment in time. Later that year at their regular EC meeting in Kopenhagen the principles and practice of such an Area were established. Money should follow students: that was the principle. The money involved was the direct expenditure of Government for education as well as student support in the form of grants and loans. Such was the principle.
However, the implementation would be nearly impossible for the direct expenditure while cumbersome (requiring legislation) for student support. Imagine a French university sending bills to each of the EU countries. It was quickly recognized that the EC in 1992 would do well with the practical policy of “closed purses”: every EC country would treat EC students from other countries as if they were from their own country. This was deemed practical not only to avoid the transaction costs of having to send bills, but also because of the low level of internal migration of students within the EC, implying that generally there were no big losers or gainers as a result of the practical policy.
In the expanded EU in which all countries follow the Bologna agreement very little attention has been paid to modifying this practical rule in line with, or even better, as a stimulus for enhanced mobility. Ministers simply sat on their hands.
Or could it be that mobility itself is still too low to worry about the rule? Indeed, the 20% student mobility target for 2010 had been far from reached. All evidence suggests some but only a slight mobility increase.
Even so, in some EU countries debate has started on the compensation of foreign EU students. And rightly so, because the practical rule does not engender – to say the least – a consistent drive of countries to attract foreign students (on the base presumably of quality, because that is what tickles student mobility). Money follows students should imply that countries which are able to attract foreign students benefit (rather than suffer). In that way quality competition within a European area could promote a quality spiral upwards.
In terms of loans and grants, some EU countries have made these available also for students who study abroad. But progress has been extremely slow.
In other words: the creation of a European Higher Education Area has not shown much progress in the almost 20 years since the concept was introduced and the time had come to make new steps.
It is amazing that so little analytical research has been done on the benefits forgone by not having a EHEA. Would it be ½%, 1% or 2% additional sustainable economic growth if the EHEA would arise? Aghion and Howitt (2006) argue that the difference in annual economic growth between the US and Europe (which was been for the period 1995-2000 1% per year) is mainly the result of a lack of high quality higher education in Europe . The equivalent of trade theory, applied to higher education, is that the removal of borders between EU countries (like in the finance of higher education of direct costs and student loans and grants only study in the own country) would have a positive growth effect. It would strengthen the quality competition in higher education between countries, putting pressures on governments to empower universities and on universities to be clear and consistent on their mission. In turn this quality improvement would translate into increased productivity.
European university graduates in general complain about the lack of internationalisation in their studies . They have experienced that for most of them the labor market is international. Three years after graduation about 80% of all graduates communicate regularly with foreigners in their job. Higher mobility would mean a more internationally attuned graduate, again raising productivity.
In research the European Research and Innovation Area has made more progress then the EHEA. The EU role in this is also more recognized. The Framework programs were introduced in 1984 and are widely recognized as successful. It should be noted that the European citizen considers innovation the most successful activity of the EU .
Although I do not know of any detailed analysis, I would expect “the bang for the buck” of FP euro’s to be substantially larger than that for individual country – euro’s in similar programs. The introduction of the European Research Council and of the European Institute of Technology further augments the European research and Innovation Area.

Then what about the European mobility programs like the Erasmus Program and Erasmus Mundus and Marie Curie. The Erasmus Programs dates back to 1987. I could experience as a professor at that time that gradually students indeed became interested. And yes, short term student mobility started to increase. I do believe that in general the international experience gained with the exchange was useful. But I could never ascertain how useful it was in terms of the additional learning acquired even if I had some (but only a vague) impression of the quality of the education in the receiving institution and in the match of the education received with our own program. It was rewarding to find some years later that indeed international mobility does contribute to human capital as evidenced in the probability to find a job at the right level after graduation, the length of unemployment after graduation an in wage rates . Exchange was supported by university policies, like that of the School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University to have a compulsory period of half a year abroad in a 3-year bachelor program with a network of known exchange partners.
But there are two reasons to look for alternatives for the Erasmus program:
– “Erasmus” has reached saturation levels. In the past 5 years there has hardly been an increase in the number of participating students. Also there is no evidence that “Erasmus” has inspired faculties to transition to a program with a compulsory 3 months or half year abroad.
– The alternative to Erasmus is the joint degree between two or more universities. In the joint degree the learning value of the mobility is (far) greater than in the exchange mobility where there is always the risk of smaller or greater degree of academic tourism.

Then Erasmus Mundus came about together with the Marie Curie programs to further joint master and doctoral degrees and joint research programs. They certainly were and are successful and should be continued if possible on a larger scale. And at the same time I notice once again from own experience how costly (in terms of time and effort) joint degrees are. Two universities who want to work together in a joint degree enter both each other’s wonderland with all kinds of truly foreign regulations which have to be adhered to. A joint degree then is subject to a double regulation load, often with regulations which are not comparable. Tuition fee and financing regulations are part of this complex.

A gradual program to bring higher education or at least university education under EU competency would strengthen the complementarity between the European Higher Education Area and the European Research and Innovation Area. But such a change in the EU treaty would be difficult. Hence other avenues should be pursued (see section 4).

3. Bologna was hijacked

What the EU and later the EU could not achieve in the form of a treaty was achieved by “extra” Governmental activities: the Bologna agreement. Ministers signed on without any further ado. In most EU countries this was quickly accepted. However, in several Central and Eastern European countries as well as in Greece it led to student unrest: “Bologna” was viewed as “privatization of higher education” in a student rethorique in which rational arguments and cool facts do not have a place. However, the political reality is unfortunately such that the student unrest does hold many of these countries back from a systematic implementation.
This is not to say that the implementation went well in other countries. Once the ink of the Bologna signature had dried up, ministers implemented a bachelor-master-PhD system in the local tradition of the country – without adhering to the original purpose of transparency, compatibility and openness towards other countries.
The length of both bachelor and master degree programs was nationally chosen according to national convenience without proper accountability to the international openness. PhD programs were in some countries looked at as study, in others as work and again in others as mixed. Accreditation was set up nationally. One country (the Netherlands) and one region (the Flemish region) decided on a joint accreditation organization, the NVAO. However, the existing joint degrees of a Flemish university (Hasselt) and a Dutch university (Maastricht) had to be accredited twice according to the different criteria, procedures and time frames of the country and the region. One independent accreditation for all of the Bologna signatories should have been the case, rather than the plethora of national accreditations. But all the Bologna Annual Ministerial Conference communique’s (eg. Leuven, 2009 or Vienna – Budapest 2010) are almost completely oblivious of the fact that without common accreditation criteria transparency is lost in the Bologna space. The same applies for quality control. How does the university of Munich know what a bachelor degree of science of Pisa university implies (if a student with that degree applies to Munich university) if the length of the study, the accreditation procedure and the quality control system first have to be ascertained)? Munich university will have to apply a GRE or G Math test in order to establish admissibility which limit mobility. Of course mobility was already dampened in the first place for French students who wanted to go for a bachelor degree of science in Pisa, but could not establish its credentials.

At the present state of affairs the hijacking of the Bologna process has left us with no hope that we achieve a EHEA unless we find new avenues.

4. New Avenues

The goal of a EHEA with a say 20% student degree mobility and leading to an additional say 1% of sustainable economic growth in the EU is still feasible and inviting. These new avenues have come into the picture in the past years .

– an European Statute for a limited number of universities, so that these can operate under the same legislative framework;
– European finance for net immigration of foreign EU students as a way to increase competition between national university systems;
– European scholarship / loans schemes as well as European pension schemes for academic staff

The idea of a European Statute is a legal framework which allows universities to operate autonomously under a board of supervision which represents European Society, of 5-7 persons, who appoint the president for limited periods of time while the president in turn appoints the deans and other key staff members (accordingly to a model shared by Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and several other countries). The board of supervision will keep the university “honest” to its mission.
The university still operates in the national setting terms of base grants and of research grants. Yet, students are paid for through the EU budget according to the same financing system applying equally to all EU countries.
In order to qualify for the European Statute a university must be fully “lingual” in one of the main languages of the EU not being the own language. It is to be expected that the English language will often be selected, but there is no reason why e.g. English universities should not “go” French or Spanish and thus become part of the European Statute universities. “Fully lingual” goes beyond teaching in the other language. Many European Universities outside the UK and Ireland already teach courses in English (mostly in the master stage). But few teach most of their bachelor and master degree program in English while at the same time ensuring that all support and communication (including the university policy documents) is in English.

The present discussion in the EU is to reduce the number of universities/academic institutes directly under the EU financing from 6 to 2 (Bologna and Florence). So the ES proposal goes against the current and will only be realized through the European Parliament. In the meantime the EU could engage in an Experimental Program with a call for proposals for universities which would want to become ES universities. In this experiment one could explore in particular the balance within the EU. ES universities should have a general attractiveness for students from all over Europe (and beyond).
However, the huge differences in structure and finance of universities in different parts of the EU (the North, the South, the East) will require creative solutions to create a balance. Here precisely lies a great opportunity: to make a quantum leap in the poorer EU countries in quality improvement of some of their universities, for example by using structural funds in conjunction with the ES scheme.

European finance for net immigration of foreign EU students also puts the balancing question straightforward on the forefront. Suppose the large number of Polish students in Germany would be financed from EU funds according to the German cost structure or some more simple mechanism which proxies the German education cost. The Polish government might feel that this money could better have been used to upgrade Polish higher education and in the process retain the Polish students who now go to Germany or even attract German students.
Again this is an intended effect. Such a scheme would make it attractive to upgrade education. It would also invite countries who are in need for an upgrading to make more use of structural and cohesion funds for the purpose of such an upgrade.
For both schemes a European should this loan program as well as a European pension scheme for academic staff are imperative. Student – and staff mobility are seriously handicapped by the nationalness of the scholarships/loan programs for students and pension scheme for academic staff.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion: Europe deserves a bright and vibrant future. Such a future is within reach if we find the courage to make more strident steps towards a Europe of knowledge, based on an European Higher Education, Research and Innovation Area.

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