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The Bologna Process in the light of students’ protests

November 24th, 2009 by Pekka Kamarainen

Before I take any steps to comment current European developments in Vocational Education and Training (VET) it is worthwhile to look at theparallel developments in Higher Education (HE). During the recent weeks the German student protests on the implementation of HE reforms have made headlines. The protests have swept all over Germany:  students are occupying the main auditories and the university rectors tend to express their understanding. Also polititicians tend to sympathise with the students’ concerns.

So what is going on:

  • What is the reason for these protests?
  • Why do all show so much understanding?
  • What kind of changes are being sought?

Obviously, the HE reform that has caused so much dissatisfaction is linked to the implementation of the Bologna Process. Paradoxically, so far the Bologna Process has made positive publicity: the idea of common degree structures and access to mobility across European Higher Education Area have been widely greeted. Yet, the implementation of Bologna Process has brought into daylight less inspiring features of students’ everyday life.

Looking at the implementation of the Bologna Process in Germany it is worthwhile to note the following changes:

  • The hitherto successful single-cycle study programmes (Dipl.-Ing., Dipl.-Päd. etc.) have been chopped into Bachelor-Master structures. Often the old contents have been packed into new degree structures.
  • Not all Bachelor graduates have access to Masters programmes. Therefore, the increased number of examinations serves as a selection mechnism that narrows down students’ options.
  • For the traditional civil servants’ careers the Bachelor degree is not accepted as an entrance qualification. Therefore, the alleged polyvalency of Bachelor degree is not a reality.
  • During the lats years the universities have complained that they are underfunded. The students experience this as tight and inflexible schedules that narrow down the freedom of choice (that is officially given in the curricula).
  • The students’ possibilities to follow the pre-given schedules are narrowed down by other practical difficulties (the overcrowded lectures, queueing to seminars,  distribution of learning events to different locations, need to work during the studies, need to commute from other places to the university town).

All these issues have been taken up now. The students have made their point: something has to be done!

As I have mentioned, the public debate has shown mainly understanding and sympatthy to the students’ concerns. However, the statements that have been made by politicians, leading government officials and university rectors are not necessarily outlining a clear change agenda. In fact the discussion is moving in some kind of Bermuda triangle: No one seems to be responsible for the problems and no one seems to be in a position to introduce necessary changes. The Federal givernment (Bund) refers to the legislative power of the Federal states (Länder). The officials of the Länder refer to the realtive autonomy of the universities. the university representatives refer to the lack of resources.

It is also more striking that alongside students the discussion on the Bologna Process and of the current developments in germany has been taken up by journalists. Not many researchers have been that visible in the debate. This can be a matter of time: it is the task of the journalists to respond quickly to hot issues. For researchers it is more challenging to analyse the conflicts in which they are themselves involved as university staff members.

I myself do not wish to get deeper involved in the debate on Bologna Process (or on the German HE reform) on a general level. Surely, I have to come back to the issue with some of my project themes (European cooperation on VET teachers and trainers; The role of practice-based learning in some areas of HE). But the current protests (and the issues that have been raised) are also symptomatic for other areas of European educational policies:

  • What are the side-effects of seemingly successful European policies?
  • What kind of context-specific issues are linked to national (or regional) implementation of European reforms?
  • What kind of creative spaces and new learning opportunities can be promoted (or narrowed down)  in the context of European reforms?

I think this is enough for the moment. I will get back to these questions with my next posts.

5 Responses to “The Bologna Process in the light of students’ protests”

  1. Pekka Kämäräinen says:

    Here just a quick update: As I mentioned, German journalists have taken an active role in informing of the students’ protests and analysing the reasons. Moreover, the German media are taking important steps to interactive journalism.

    The public tv channel 2 (ZDF) has launched a joint action with the students organisations to collect students’ contributions and to present them in a ZDF special program. The link to the ZDF web page that innforms of this service is given below:

    http://www.heute.de/ZDFheute/inhalt/15/0,3672,7936751,00.html

    It is interesting to see, what all has started to move …
    Pekka

  2. Gary John says:

    I am writing a dissertation on The Bologna Process and resistance to change. I am looking for more information, so far proving difficult. I have heard there has been much resistance from the UK as they will have to introduce two year masters degrees as well as four year bachelor degrees but again can not find any info! Any help would be much appreciated.

  3. Pekka Kamarainen says:

    Reply to Gary John:
    Dear Colleague, Thank you for reacting on my post. I understand your difficulties in getting access to written information. If I have understood you correctly, you are focusing on developments in the UK. I must confess that I do not know the UK circumstances or the debates that well. I was picking up the current students’ protests in Germany because I am working in a German university (although focusing on research in vocational education and training). The link that I gave to the German tv-channel ZDF and its web pages is active and gives an overview on the recent debates here (in German). Otherwise, I would assume that the students’ unions’ websites could be helpful.

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