If a list were drawn up of the various phrases that have been used most often in Ukraine’s education system in the past five years, the phrase “Bologna Process” would top it. Thousands of teachers have given their students special courses, dozens of conferences and workshops have been held at the highest level, and huge funds and much time have been spent. But are we sure that this well-known phrase leads most professors and students to think that the educational reforms known as the Bologna Process will improve the quality of specialist training and conditions for research and teaching, create new opportunities for graduates, and increase the prestige of Ukrainian education? Are we inclined to reject some Bologna slogans and actions? Has the number of professors and students who view the words “Bologna Process as a curse reached a critical point? Do we feel that we have no right to do this to our education?
I will immediately provide an example for my opponents — and I hope that the personal opinion expressed in this article will spark an open and fair debate. In the fall of 2006, the all-Ukrainian conference of student leaders took place in Lviv. One of the sessions dealt with the implementation of the Bologna tasks in universities. By that time, the Lviv Polytechnic, in cooperation with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, the Vienna University of Technology, and the University of Florence, had carried out a Tempus Program project devoted to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). I was the project coordinator, and while visiting the partner universities abroad for a year, we (a group of ministry and Polytechnic representatives) learned many interesting things about the true priorities and goals of the Bologna Process.
Obviously, the theme of that session intrigued me, and I asked for permission to attend it. One of the presentations stunned me. The head of the student government at Kirovohrad University said that, following an opinion poll, 98 percent of their students opposed the Bologna Process. Can you imagine the level to which some universities were reduced? As it became clear to me after a long conversation with the section debaters, most students did not understand the essence of this process or, to be more exact, its interpretation at the local level had nothing in common with European educational values and trends.
Over the next two years the Bologna Process events evolved in the same vein, unfortunately. The last straw that forced me to write this article was a recent article in the Verkhovna Rada’s newspaper Holos Ukrainy. It raises a number of issues that are important for improving our education. It contains the following phrase: “A mandatory condition for Ukraine to join the Bologna Process was the introduction of the module rating system of evaluation in 2004...” If the author — a doctor of sciences, a professor, a high-ranking university administrator — makes such glaring mistakes in one sentence (the Bologna Process does not set conditions, relevant documents say nothing about the module rating system, and the year 2004 is incorrect), then what is the level of understanding of this process in broader educational circles?
I am a firm supporter of the changes now underway in the European Higher Education Area, primarily because they give our students, lecturers, and academics a big chance not to be left on the fringes of the globalization processes that have embraced almost all spheres of human life in the early 21st century. But we will only be able to respond to the challenges facing us if we are deeply convinced in the correctness of the established goals, which must be based on an understanding of them and internal acceptance. Otherwise, we are in for profound disappointment and an internal (and external) exodus of leading specialists from our institutions of higher education.
I would like to dwell on some legends and myths surrounding the Bologna Process, which are being circulated in some publications and especially in informal conversations. Experience shows that education bureaucrats often introduce ill-considered reforms and procedures, citing Bologna Process “requirements.” Below is a subjective list based on my own reflections, conversations with my colleagues and students, and an analysis of articles in the press. In some cases, they cancel each other out, but a newspaper article is not a piece of scholarly research, so the reader will forgive me.
THE BOLOGNA PROCESS IS AN ACTION PROGRAM TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY COUNTRIES AND UNIVERSITIES
In 1999 Ukraine missed the chance to join the founders of the Bologna Process simply by affixing its signature. Why it did remains unknown to the general educational public. I categorically reject the claim that we were unprepared. I am quite familiar with the education system in Poland, Austria (as of 1999), Germany, and other European countries. I can state that, from the standpoint of the main principles of the Bologna Declaration, we were essentially ahead of those countries because we had already introduced a multilevel system of education (the Vienna University of Technology, one of Europe’s leading universities, still has not introduced a multilevel system in some fields). Judging by other indicators, we did not look like a white spot on the map of Europe.
As a result, we submitted an application, at the same time as Russia, at the Berlin conference of education ministers in 2003. Here, too, things did not go the way we wanted. President Vladimir Putin wrote a personal letter asking for Russia to be admitted without any preliminary conditions and procedures, taking into account the high reputation of Russian education and research in the world. Russia was admitted. The top Ukrainian leadership did not take a this step and, as a result, Ukraine’s educational system was drawn for almost two years into what I consider a humiliating preparatory process of external inspections and efforts to prove our preparedness as a member of the European educational and scholarly community.
Etched deeply into the minds of Ukrainian educators was the idea that we had missed the boat and should thus urgently carry out a certain action program if we wanted to see ourselves in Europe. We were admitted in 2005 in Bergen, but we were still conscious of the necessity to carry out the program. I know that I will be criticized for saying this, but I have ample grounds to claim that insufficient real progress is now being fully compensated for by fervent simulations of carrying out the program to create the European Higher Education Area in 2010.
So what is the Bologna Process? In my view, it is, above all, a process that evolves according to certain laws. With the goal remaining unchanged, the tasks, priorities, accents, and definitions may vary over the course of time.
Let me give you a simple example. The original Bologna Declaration says that students will be awarded the bachelor’s degree after completing the first cycle of education, and the master’s degree after the second cycle (to be completely impartial, I will point out that the names of the degrees were in brackets). This provision found no support in many countries that have their own traditional names for education documents. It soon disappeared from the Bologna documents, and today it is only a question of study cycles.
Another example may be taken from medicine. The introduction of the bachelor’s degree (three to four years of study) sparked a strong protest in medical universities because the skills of such specialists would not allow them to occupy a place on the relevant labor market. What was the decision? They introduced something called the integrated master’s degree (without an intermediate degree) and drew up a list of areas to which this applied.
One can find many similar and even more complex examples by carefully analyzing the TUNING Project reports and the proceedings of the so-called post- Bologna workshops. Now, let us recall the debate in Ukraine on the topic: “What is to be done with the specialist degree, which is not part of the Bologna Process?”
While carrying out the program, we should switch to improving Ukraine’s educational system so that we may become a full- fledged member of the European Higher Education Area in 2010 (although the deadline may be amended) on the basis of ensuring the high quality of our graduates and the transparency of our educational system.
THE BOLOGNA PROCESS ENCOURAGES A SINGLE APPROACH TO THE NAMES OF QUALIFICATIONS AWARDED TO GRADUATES
In December 2004, as part of the Tempus project, the Ukrainian delegation met with Prof. Hans Kaiser, the longtime provost of the Vienna University of Technology and the vice-president of one of the most influential associations of European universities of technology. During the interesting and useful talk, the pro-rector of the Lviv Polytechnic asked: “How do you plan to call the second-level graduate of your university — a master of engineering or master of sciences?” The answer was: “The way we have called such a graduate for almost 190 years — a diplomaed engineer.” To the emotional question of “How is this possible when the Bologna Process demands a master’s degree?” came the calm answer: “The Bologna Process demands nothing. We have our own traditions, and we do not intend to change anything.”
Here is another example: the diploma of a licentiate.
In Poland this diploma is awarded after a student completes the first cycle of education, as a rule, three years after obtaining a secondary education. In Sweden it is conferred after the successful completion of two years of doctoral studies (somewhat similar to our aspirantura); in other words, at least seven years of university studies. This year, as part of a new Tempus project, the Joint European Project for University Management, we visited two leading universities in these countries: the Warsaw Polytechnic and the Royal University of Technology in Stockholm. Neither of these universities (and we also met with the representatives of those countries’ education ministers) has ever placed a change to the names of qualifications on the agenda.
So everything is clear about the “single approach.” But why is the creation of a common European qualification network one of the most urgent tasks today, especially after Bergen? (Ukraine is, unfortunately, one of the outsiders here.) The answer is the necessity to use a single description of qualifications on the basis of the so-called Dublin Descriptor in order to make education documents understandable, as far as study terms and qualifications are concerned. This is a little- known issue in Ukraine, especially among lecturers who do not specialize in pedagogy. I would advise those who are interested in the description of qualifications to begin analyzing the models of the European bachelor (http://tuning.unideusto.org/tuningeu) and, for further study, to read the book Qualifications: Introduction to a Concept by Sjur Bergan (Council of Europe Publishing, 2007). Unfortunately, this book has not been translated into Ukrainian.
(To be continued in the next issue)
Yurii Rashkevych is a Doctor of Sciences (Engineering), and professor and pro-rector of Lviv National Polytechnic University.