Higher education: a priority for EI
The Bologna process aims to establish an open area for higher education – comprising 45 countries – by the year 2010 in order to enable greater student mobility and the mutual recognition of qualifications and diplomas. This will obviously have significant implications for teachers and researchers.
Launched in 1999, the Bologna process did not initially include the participation of the organisations that represent academic staff at national and European level. However, this has now changed, thanks to the recognition of the EI Pan-European Structure as an official partner. The Bologna process: recognition at last! The Bergen Conference of Ministers Responsible for Higher Education, in which 45 "European" countries are now represented, has granted the EI Pan-European Structure "consultative member" status in the Bologna process. This official recognition of teachers and their unions as participants in the Bologna process is a welcome development. Unlike the associations representing students and higher education institutions, which were officially involved at the two previous ministerial conferences ( Prague and Berlin), teachers had been left out of the process until now. The EI Pan-European Structure was represented at the Bergen ministerial conference by Paul Bennett and Monique Fouilhoux. Gaining "official partner" status gives rise to new challenges and opportunities. EI has called on its higher education and research affiliates to work in close cooperation with the EI Secretariat in order to carry forward the agreed priority objectives at the institutional, national and European levels. Addressing the conference, Paul Bennett, Chair of the Pan European Higher Education and Research Standing Committee (HERSC), expressed the hope that “EI’s integration at the highest level of the process will promote a deeper involvement of teachers’ unions at the national level". The ministerial conference was characterised by a high degree of agreement and cohesion around the Bologna objectives. Ministers noted the significant progress achieved but recognised the need for consolidation and full implementation, highlighting the "central role of higher education institutions, their staff and students" in this context. A number of workshops focusing on research, lifelong learning, quality assurance and governance were held on the fringes of the ministerial conference, thus enabling participants to map out some of the key issues which EI and its affiliates in higher education will be addressing in the coming period, now that they are finally in a position to contribute directly to the debate. Strengthening cooperation with students and institutions Over the past few months, EI has been cooperating closely with other participants in the Bologna process, including ESIB, the European umbrella organisation of national unions of students, and the European Universities Association (EUA), which rep resents the European universities and the national rectors' conferences. Following an agreement signed with ESIB in July 2004, EI took part in the European Student Convention held in Luxembourg from 17 to 20 March. Discussions at the convention centred on the funding of educational establishments, the provision of student grants, the governance of universities, and student mobility. Subsequently ESIB and EI held a working meeting to identify key areas for cooperation in the coming months. EI was also invited to the EUA Convention "Strong Universities for Europe", held in Glasgow early in April. Speaking of the implementation of the Bologna process, EI representative Monique Fouilhoux emphasised the view that the Bologna objectives might be too ambitious to be realised by 2010, particularly in the context of financial uncertainty. Voicing the concerns of academic staff, she said there was a serious risk that the current unattractiveness of the profession, due to unsatisfactory salaries and working conditions and lack of tenure, would make it impossible to realise the Bologna objectives and would undermine the quality of higher education and research in the future. >Much like EI, the two associations, each adopted a Declaration that was submitted and taken into account at the Bergen Ministerial Conference . The three organisations have agreed to work together in preparation for the next ministerial conference, which is due to take place in London in 2007. Source: Worlds of Education Issue 14 2005