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Nice idea… but is Bologna a distant land?

Written By: Nic Mitchell - May• 01•12

I am not saying there’s been a conspiracy of silence among British higher education leaders, but they haven’t gone exactly out of their way to promote what is quaintly called the Bologna Process.

But I’m a pro-European Englishman, albeit with a bit of Franco-Irish-Scottish blood, so maybe that’s why I’ve slaved away for the last ten years trying to interest others working in university comms to take more interest in what’s happening just across the North Sea.

It’s been hard work as the UK Steering Committee member for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers Association (EUPRIO), and we did have a membership surge just before the recession. But attendance at recent conferences in Italy and the Czech Republic has slumped among the Brits.

It seems UK university marketing directors and others prefer to gather en masse at events held on home turf by the likes of CASE and the CIPR, or jet off to the other side of the world to entice high fee-paying international students from countries like China and India to enrol on degree courses at British universities.

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the reaction when the valiant Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at the London-based Institute of Education, penned a piece for The Guardian entitled: ‘A universities revolution that excites the world… except England’.

He was merely pointing out that the largest top-level meeting of education ministers from 47 countries – the first such gathering for three years – had just taken place in Romania to agree the next steps in the Bologna Process.

The ‘process’ was started in 1999 at a meeting of European government ministers in – yes, you’ve guessed it! – Bologna, Italy.

Fittingly, the home to what it believed to be the world’s oldest university was chosen as the venue to launch the initiative to encourage universities to work with neighbours over the border and encourage student and staff mobility and create a European Higher Education Area complete with easy credit transfers and the rest.

So getting back to Peter Scott’s Guardian article. It simply pointed out that with one or two honourable exceptions the English higher education policy class – ministers (both main parties), civil servants, quangocrats, vice-chancellors – were ‘Eurosceptic to the core’. Scott contrasted this Little Englander approach – the Scots are fans of Bologna – with the rest of the world, which wants to join the process named after that nice old Italian city.

And what happened when his ‘Opinions’ were aired on the Guardian’s online version, well have a look at the online comments http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/apr/30/bologna-process-key-european-university-success

One respondent even suggested it was probably best not to enquire too deeply about the ingredients going into the BS (Bologna Sausage) – before going on to admit complete ignorance about what it was all about.

Sad that an attempt to instil a little bit of knowledge about Bologna should trigger such a response, but I suppose if it gets people talking and thinking about how, and why, working together with others in Europe might be a good thing – even for Brits – then Scott’s ‘Opinion’ piece might have done some good. We can, but live in hope!

Nic Mitchell (UK representative on the EUPRIO Steering Committee, 2001-11)

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