Rose Begalla, Study Abroad Interest Group Member
Studying abroad has become a focal point on many U.S. college and university campuses. Academic advisors often are called upon to help identify and evaluate suitable programs of study for their advisees. In Europe, broad higher education reform may help ease this burden; that reform is known as the Bologna Process. Bhandari and Chow (2008) noted that 57.4% of 241,791 total American students studying abroad did so in Europe during the 2006-07academic year (p.64).
The resources listed in the Reference section of this article provide a detailed history of the Bologna Process. What advisors should understand is the magnitude of this reform. The Institute of International Education (April 2009) noted that the 46 countries currently signed on to the Bologna Process collectively represent 25% of the world’s nations and include nearly 4,000 institutions of higher education (p.1).
The Bologna Process will help the movement towards a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by the 2010 target date (Bergan, 2003, p.32). The EHEA will not be defined by a country’s singular boundaries but by Europe as a whole. Crosier, Purser, and Smidt’s Report (2007) stated that, “increasing the attractiveness of the EHEA for the rest of the world has been a driving force of the Bologna Process since the inception…” (p.46). Although there are several salient points to remember when discussing the Bologna Process, those of primary interest to academic advisors are:
- Nations will work toward a system of easily readable and comparable degrees (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral), including implementation of the Diploma Supplement;
- The institutional structure will consist of two separate and distinct layers (undergraduate and graduate);
- A common system of academic credits will be used (Reinald & Kulesza, 2006, p.9).
Creating a system of easily readable and comparable degrees addresses the second point with two distinct layers that will help determine the education level completed by a student. An essence of quality assurance is added by making degrees comparable, i.e., a political science major in France will receive a similar degree to a political science major in the United Kingdom. Before the advent of the Bologna Process, that was not always the case. There still will be nuances as university faculties intertwine their academic specialties with the standardized curricula defined by the governing bodies of the European Higher Education Area.
This type of delineation will help American students who go overseas and bring credit back to their home institutions. This structure will allow U.S. schools to develop policies and implement consistent standards based upon universal degree types. Of course, this standardization is not a panacea for all credit transfer issues, but it is a good stepping stone.
Creating two distinct layers at the undergraduate and graduate levels will help the mobility of students to and from the United States. Take for example an American student who matriculated to a British university before the Bologna implementation—the student might graduate with a bachelor’s degree. The British degree is usually obtained in three years and may or may not be comparable with a four year bachelor’s degree in the United States. Complicating matters further would be if the American student graduated with an Honors Bachelor. This degree in the U.K. would typically mean a student could go on to a doctorate level program in the same area. In the United States, many registrars and admissions offices consider the 4th year to be still at an undergraduate level.
The creation of undergraduate and graduate levels will help the flow of students and will not create unnecessary duplication of coursework. Students will be placed in the appropriate programs across the Atlantic. This should ease the workload of academic advisors trying to make sense of ambiguous names on transcripts. The Diploma Supplement should clarify a student’s standing making placement easier.
The regional accrediting bodies in the U.S. lend an aura of quality assurance to the potential student and labor market. In Europe, the quality assurance of higher education was handled by the Ministries of Education in the respective countries. With the advent of the Bologna Process and the adoption of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) some standardization will be implemented and initial quality assurance measures produced. Respective countries will still have a Ministry of Education that ensures proper licensing, degree awarding certification, etc., as (at least at this point) there is no central governing authority.
Mobility for American students will be impacted. Before the Bologna Process was implemented, courses at several European universities were not compatible with the American higher education course structure. Students coming from schools on the quarter system were usually restricted to fall study overseas and semester-school students were usually limited to spring study abroad as fall semester in Europe ends after the New Year holiday. In the past, science and technology courses were usually taught on a year module and arts and humanities courses were semesterized. Some semesterized courses could be assessed before the winter holidays.
Although the Bologna Process is relatively new, there have been tremendous efforts across Europe to implement the action items originally introduced in the Bologna Declaration. American students will still study in Europe. Hopefully these reforms will help students who take courses on a semesterized module stay on track for graduation at their home schools. Academic advisors should work closely with their global education/study abroad/international programs office to stay on top of the Bologna reforms and how these reforms impact advising at their schools.
College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences
Cleveland State University
For more information on the Bologna Process: NAFSA: Association for International Educators. (2007). Bologna process supplement. Washington, DC: NAFSA.
Bergan, S. (Ed.). (2003). Recognition issues in the bologna process. Strasbourg, FR: Council of Europe Publishing.
Bhandari, R. & Chow, P. (2008). Open doors 2008: Report on international educational exchange. New York: Institute of International Education.
Crosier, D., Purser, L., & Smidt, H. (2007). Trends V: Universities shaping the European higher education area. European University Association Report.
Institute of International Education. (April, 2009). Three-year bologna-compliant degrees: Responses from U.S. graduate schools. Retrieved August 24, 2009, from www.iie.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Research_and_Evaluation/Briefing_Papers/SurveyBolognaProcessBriefingPaper2009.pdf
Reinalda, B. & Kulesza, E. (2006). The bologna process—Harmonizing Europe’s higher education (2nd ed.). Warsaw, Poland: Barbara Budrich Publishing.
Cite this article using APA style as: Begalla, R. (2009, December). The bologna process and academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 32(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]