In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Bologna Process

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bologna as a Political Process
  • Bologna and Beyond

Education The Bologna Process
Alberto Amaral, Cristina Sin, Amélia Veiga
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0202


In 1998 the education ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy signed the Sorbonne Declaration on harmonization of the architecture of the European higher education system (HES). They further called on other EU Member States and other European countries to join them in those objectives. The Sorbonne Declaration raised concerns about the implementation of an EU at two different speeds, with the four larger countries leading the way and asking the others to follow. The 1999 Bologna Declaration, signed by twenty-nine ministers, was a reaction to this problem and initiated an ambitious program of reforms known as the Bologna Process. The Confederation of the EU Rectors’ Conferences and the Association of European Universities (CRE) explained Bologna as a pledge to reform the structures of the HES in a convergent way, the idea of convergence replacing that of harmonization as being less offensive to the diversity of HES. The Bologna Declaration is a political document carefully drafted to avoid excessive inconvenience to any country and as such contains some degree of vagueness, which is characteristic of European legislation. The ministers committed themselves to the creation of the European higher education area (EHEA) by 2010, through intergovernmental cooperation. It is therefore not a formal initiative of the Commission, which only joined in its steering later. The creation of the EHEA was pursued with three objectives: increased Mobility of students and staff, enhanced graduate employability, and improved competitiveness of Europe. The Bologna Process is an example of the complexity of the European multilevel governance. Implementation is dependent on the interpretation of principles (e.g., transparency) and instruments (e.g., degree structure) at different levels: European, national (sometimes regional), and institutional. The diverse interpretations make it possible to accommodate the meaning of European legislation to each interpreter’s particular political context, eliminating unsavoury details. Governments often used Bologna as a pretext to pursue their own political agendas, even when these were outside the scope of the Process. To make things more difficult, as higher education has always been considered an area of national sensitivity, protected by the subsidiarity principle, the steering of the Process must rely on soft law procedures, which lack legal leverage. However this will make eventual convergence more difficult. As recognized in the Ministers’ Yerevan declaration, implementation of reforms is uneven and the tools are sometimes used incorrectly or in bureaucratic and superficial ways, creating a mismatch between political ambitions and grassroots achievements in institutions.

General Overviews

As a relatively recent development in European higher education, the Bologna Process has not been systematically described and analyzed as a phenomenon in all its dimensions in any single study. There are, however, a number of books, which each consider different aspects of the Bologna Process, from governance to implementation, as well as the degree of achieved convergence. There are recent overviews with contributions from well-recognized researchers of higher education in Curaj, et al. 2015, and Amaral, et al. 2009, while others, such as Tomusk 2007, and Zgaga, et al. 2013, deal mainly with cases of Eastern European countries. An important issue analyzed in detail in Garben 2011 is the role of the European Court of Justice in building the European Area of Higher Education. The development of the Europe of Knowledge was addressed in Maassen and Olsen 2007 and Corbett 2005. Implementation problems and convergence difficulties due to the use of an open method of coordination were considered in Voegtle 2014 and Sin, et al. 2016.

  • Amaral, A., G. Neave, P. Maassen, and C. Musselin, eds. 2009. European integration and the governance of higher education and research. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    The authors of this book have dedicated considerable effort to the analysis of the Bologna process implementation, which is a very complex process because the European Commission does not have formal authority with respect to education while governments have not set up an executive administrative capacity for implementing the Bologna Declaration.

  • Corbett, A. 2005. Universities and the Europe of Knowledge: Ideas, institutions and policy entrepreneurship in European Union higher education policy, 1955–2005. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230286467

    The book provides a rich background narrative to strategic efforts to develop the Europe of Knowledge. Its analytic interest in ideas and individual “policy entrepreneurs” underpins the story and advances understanding of the EU policy process and of the phenomenon of policy entrepreneurship. The book shows why, and to what extent, the Bologna Process builds on earlier developments.

  • Curaj, A., L. Matei, R. Pricopie, J. Salmi, and P. Scott, eds. 2015. The European Higher Education Area: Between critical reflections and future policies. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    This book presents the views of higher education researchers on essential themes in higher education, including the impacts of the Bologna Process on the EHEA and beyond. At a time when political tensions have increased and there are signs of political withdrawal in some countries, it is suggested that the voice of researchers may help to maintain the momentum of the Bologna Process.

  • Garben, S. 2011. EU higher education law: The Bologna Process and harmonization by stealth. Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands: Wolters Kluwer.

    The book presents a study on the legitimacy of Bologna from a European law perspective and scrutinizes the Process in terms of democracy, transparency, and accountability. It looks at the Bologna Process as an attempt by EU Member States to sidestep the EU’s growing influence on higher education and the role of the European Court of Justice in building the European Area of Higher Education.

  • Maassen, P., and J. P. Olsen, eds. 2007. University dynamics and European integration. Berlin: Springer.

    This book analyzes two European integration processes (“Bologna” and “Lisbon”) affecting university dynamics and their reform and presents a framework for analyzing ongoing “modernization” reforms and reform debates that take place at various governance levels.

  • Sin, C., A. Veiga, and A. Amaral. 2016. European policy implementation and higher education: Analysing the Bologna Process. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-50462-3

    This book presents a critical analysis of the implementation of the Bologna Process, its achievements and consequences, as well as its failures and problems regarding lack of convergence. Taking Portugal as a case study, the book includes an analysis of the perceptions and the practices formed at the institutional level in respect of the key objectives and laid down at the European level—namely employability, Mobility, and attractiveness.

  • Tomusk, V., ed. 2007. Creating the European Area of Higher Education: Voices from the periphery. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    This book analyzes the implementation of the Bologna Process in the countries of the so-called European periphery. It pays special attention to cultural and political issues that the European higher education project faces in various countries, including the role of students and the changing position of the intellectuals under its impact.

  • Voegtle, E. M. 2014. Higher education policy convergence and the Bologna Process: A cross-national study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This study investigates whether the soft governance mechanism of transnational communication has evoked cross-national policy harmonization. Results suggest that the Bologna Process has triggered substantial policy harmonization beyond general policy convergence.

  • Zgaga, P., U. Teichler, and J. Brennan, eds. 2013. The globalization challenge for European higher education: Convergence and diversity, centres and peripheries. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

    The book examines the impact of Europe-wide and global developments on national higher education systems. The authors try in particular to upfront issues of convergence and diversity, of equity and of the relationship of centers and peripheries in higher education.

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