The purpose of the Bologna process is to create the European higher education area by harmonising academic degree standards and quality assurance standards throughout Europe. The name comes because the process was proposed at the University of Bologna with the signing, in 1999, of the Bologna declaration by ministers of education from 29 European countries in the Italian city of Bologna. This was opened up to other countries, and further governmental meetings have been held in Prague (2001) and Berlin (2003); the next meeting will take place in Bergen, Norway in spring 2005.
Before the signing of the Bologna declaration, the Magna Carta Universitatum had been issued at a meeting of university rectors celebrating the 900th anniversary of the University of Bologna - and thus of European universities - in 1988. One year before the Bologna declaration, education ministers from France, Germany, Italy and the UK signed the Sorbonne declaration in Paris 1998, comitting themselves to "harmonising the architecture of the European Higher Education system". French officials in particular therefore often refer to the La Sorbonne/Bologna process.
The Council of Europe and UNESCO have jointly issued the Lisbon recogniton convention on recognition of academic qualifications as part of the process, which has been ratified by the majority of the countries party to the Bologna process.
The basic framework adopted is of three levels test of higher education qualification: bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. In most cases, these will take 3, 2, and 3 years respectively to complete, but the framework is moving to defining qualifications in terms of learning outcomes and the length in years is in no way set in stone.
These levels are the current model in the UK, Ireland (as well as the US) as distinct from most of Continental Europe, where the model often is based on the magister or diploma. In any case, programme length tends to vary from country to country, and less often between institutions within a country.
Most countries do not currently fit the framework – instead they have their own time-honoured systems. The process will have many knock-on effects such as bilateral agreements between countries and institutions which recognise each others' degrees. However, the process is now moving away from a strict convergence in terms of time spent on qualifications, towards a competency-based system. The system will have an undergraduate and postgraduate division, with the bachelor degree in the former and the master and doctoral in the latter.
The UK has both an undergraduate and postgraduate master's degree. The postgraduate master's degree, for instance, normally takes only one year to complete, sometimes two. The undergraduate master's in the UK does not fit the framework either.
In Ireland most honours bachelors degree are four years (England: three years) with master's and doctorates being broadly similar to the UK. The masters degree is always a postgraduate degree, either taught or achieved through research.
In Belgium the bachelor's degree took 2 years, with an additional 2 to obtain a licentiate. Study is very intense and the majority of students do not attend university.
In mainland Europe five year plus first degrees are common, with some taking up to eight years not being unheard of. This leads to many not completing their studies; many of these countries are now introducing bachelor-level qualifications.
In Germany the process is already underway, many subjects of the natural sciences, humanities and social studies can be completed with a BA or BSc at an increasing number of universities. The Bachelor's degree in engineering can be a BSc or a BEng. The new postgraduate Master's degrees (MA, MSc and MEng) are seen as equivalent to the old five year first degrees Diplom and Magister Artium. Bachelor's degrees are seen as roughly equivalent to the old four year first degree Diplom(FH) from universities of applied sciences. The Number of old degree courses is declining and they will be replaced by the new degrees until 2005 in some states or until 2010 in all other German states.
Higher education institutions and parliament in Sweden are currently awaiting a bill that will introduce Bologna degrees in Sweden. The Swedish kandidatexamen will not be changed, as it is roughly equivalent to a Bachelor's degree, but there is on-going discussion about prolonging the Swedish magisterexamen to two years to adapt it to a Master's degree as well as about the introduction of the ECTS grading scale .
Current signatories and thus members of the "European higher education area" are: Albania - Andorra - Austria - Belgium - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bulgaria - Croatia - Cyprus - Czech Republic -Denmark - Estonia - Finland - France - Germany - Greece - Holy See - Hungary - Iceland - Ireland - Italy - Latvia - Lithuania - Luxembourg - Malta - Netherlands - Norway - Poland - Portugal - FYR Macedonia - Romania - Russia - Serbia and Montenegro - Slovakia - Slovenia - Spain - Sweden - Switzerland - Turkey - UK
Other networks at this level include ENQA as well as ENIC and NARIC .
- Council of Europe - Bologna Process
- National Unions of Students in Europe - Bologna Process Committee