The Bologna process aims at establishing a European Higher Education Area (website¦wikipedia). This involves facilitating mobility of students, graduates and higher education staff; mutual recognition of qualifications; broadening access; and improving standards. Important sub-goals include quality assurance and establishment of a basic framework for European higher education qualifications, involving a (180-240 credit) bachelor’s degree, a (60-120 credit) master’s degree, and a doctoral degree.
The name of the process derives from its origins in the Declaration of Bologna, signed by 29 nations in 1999. (Bologna is the oldest university in the Western world, believed to have been founded in 1088.) The process now involves 47 countries. Its organisation turns on two-yearly conferences of the Education ministers, held in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005), London (2007) and Leuven (2009).
Ireland has been involved with the process from the start, and it is now a core part of the national debate around qualifications. See bologna.ie.
The process has attracted some controversy, especially where standardisation of qualifications seems to threaten existing arrangements without improving them. The precise status of master’s degrees, and their relation to bachelor’s degrees, has proved particularly problematical. In some countries, the process has been implemented concurrently with unpopular reforms such as the introduction of student fees and the reduction of university autonomy, and so has been tarred with the same brush.