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Brussels, 22 April 2009

Frequently Asked Questions: the Bologna Process

On 28-29 April, in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, the 46 European countries plus the European Commission, other European organisations and stakeholders participating in the Bologna Process will take part in a major conference which will set the agenda and agree the priorities for the European Higher Education Area for the next decade to 2020.

1 – What is the Bologna Process?

The Bologna Process aims to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. It is an attempt by European Ministers with responsibility for higher education to bring some order into the large variety of structures, systems and degrees which exist, to make European higher education more compatible and comparable as well as more competitive and more attractive for Europeans and for citizens and scholars from other continents.

The three priorities of the Bologna process are: Introduction of the three cycle system (bachelor/master/doctorate), quality assurance and recognition of qualifications and periods of study.

Every second year the Ministers meet to measure progress and set priorities for action. After Bologna (1999), they met in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005) and London (2007) and now, in Leuven/Louvain-La-Neuve (April 2009). There will be a 10th year anniversary conference in 2010 in Budapest/Vienna. The next regular ministerial meeting will take place in Bucharest in 2012.

2 – How many countries are participating?

The Bologna process has grown from 29 countries in 1999 to 46[1] today.

The criteria for accession to the process are:

  • being a signatory to the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe.
  • giving a clear commitment to the objectives of the Bologna Process and presenting a reform programme for the candidate country's higher education system.

3 – What are the main Bologna reforms and tools for their implementation?

Good progress has been made in implementing the main Bologna reforms. The three cycle system has been adopted by almost all signatory countries; most have an independent body for quality assurance; the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) has been made obligatory in most signatory countries and is most commonly used for both credit transfer and accumulation; the use of the Diploma Supplement is widespread. The Diploma Supplement is a document attached to a higher education diploma providing a standardised description of the nature, level, context, content and status of the studies that were pursued and successfully completed by the graduate.

Additional efforts are needed in the field of lifelong learning, to increase the participation of older persons in higher education.

4 – What is the current state of the process?

Countries and institutions which have not yet fully introduced the Bologna reforms are stepping up their efforts in order to reach the common objective of establishing the European Higher Education Area by 2010. The EU will continue to support Member States and neighbouring countries through its action programmes. The Commission will also continue to support the broader modernisation agenda for universities[2], so that they can fully play their role in the global knowledge society.

5 – What are the main decisions expected in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve, April 2009?

In Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve, Ministers will establish priorities for the next decade for the European Higher Education area. Such priorities will include: addressing the social dimension of higher education, strengthening equitable access and measures to ensure completion of studies, lifelong learning, employability, student-centred learning and the teaching mission of higher education, research and innovation, mobility, data collection, transparency tools (e.g. ranking and classification of higher education institutions) and funding - the need to identify new and diversified sources of funding for higher education.

Another priority is that of international openness. There is huge interest in the Bologna reforms from countries outside Europe and for the first time, 20 of these countries[3] have been invited to attend the 'Bologna Policy Forum', which will take place directly after the Ministerial Meeting. This Forum, which will serve as a platform for developing a closer relationship with other regions of the world, will also help to promote global cooperation in higher education.

6 – What is the role of the European Commission and the European Union in the Bologna Process?

The Bologna Process (European Higher Education Area) is an intergovernmental process. In the EU, the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems is a matter for Member States. The European Commission is a full member of the Bologna Process, next to the 46 signatory countries and the consultative members: EUA (European University Association), EURASHE (European Association of Institutions in Higher Education), ESU (the National Unions of Students in Europe), the Council of Europe, UNESCO, ENQA (European Network of Quality Assurance Agencies) and the social partners Education International and Business Europe.

7 – How does the EU support the Bologna Process?

Most of the Bologna action lines (such as quality assurance, student and staff mobility, the European dimension in higher education, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and the Diploma Supplement) have their origins in EU-funded activities under the Erasmus programme. The EU continues to support these activities through Erasmus, now part of the new Lifelong Learning Programme. In this context, national teams of Bologna experts are also supported to promote Bologna reforms.

The EU equally supports capacity-building measures to modernise the content and practices of higher education in 28 neighbouring countries and to bring their systems in line with the Bologna requirements, through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) and the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and more particularly through the Tempus programme, which has an annual budget of about €55 million. In the past 19 years, Tempus has funded 6,600 university cooperation projects, involving 2,000 universities from the EU and its partner countries. Of particular importance in a global context is the EU's flagship programme for worldwide academic cooperation, Erasmus Mundus.

The EU also works to support the modernisation agenda of universities through the implementation of the 7th EU Framework Programme for Research (European Research Area) and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme as well as the Structural Funds and loans from the European Investment Bank.

To establish synergies between the Bologna process and the Copenhagen process—a similar reform process which concerns vocational education and training—in co-operation with Member States, the Commission has established a European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF). The EQF is linked to and supported by other initiatives in the fields of transparency of qualifications (Europass), credit transfer (the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System for higher education ¾ ECTS ¾ and the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training ¾ ECVET) and quality assurance (European association for quality assurance in higher education ¾ ENQA ¾ and the European Network for Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training ¾ ENQA-AVET).

8 – Where can I obtain further information on the Bologna Process?

The following websites provide further information on the Bologna Process:

European Commission: Higher education: Bologna:

The official website of the Bologna Process (Bologna Secretariat):

Eurydice, the information network on education in Europe:

[1] All EU Member States (Belgium includes the Flemish Community and the French Community) + Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Holy See, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Russian Federation, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine

[2] Delivering on the Modernisation Agenda for Universities: Education, Research and Innovation COM(20006)208 final, of 10 May 2006

[3] Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Tanzania, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, United States and Canada

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