University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Cheap teachers for cheap students

Official celebrations of the Bologna process in March are seen as a travesty by students and scholars

Officially, the Bologna Process is all about making academic degrees and study periods compatible, recognized and accepted in each European country.

Unofficially, it has become a byword for something that angry European students are increasingly mobilising against: Cutbacks in university funding, higher tuition fees, one-size-fits-all education, and public universities that are run like private businesses.

From all over Europe

Education and science ministers of 46 European countries are celebrating Bologna’s ten-year anniversary 11-12 March 2010, first in Budapest then in Vienna. But their positive agenda is already being subverted by student activists who plan to converge on the city from throughout Europe.

Vienna students are organising a counter-summit that comes after a long winter of discontent with blockades and strikes in 80 European universities including Copenhagen.

According to one of the organisers, Judith Litchauer, an economics student from the University of Economics in Vienna, the counter-summit is already host to hundreds of students from Germany, Italy, England and Croatia, and more are expected to come as the word gets out.

Calls to cancel class

The technical nature of the Bologna reform process withstanding, Bologna as a symbol has come to mean something else, explains Judith Litchauer.

»The Bologna process has taken education and made it into something that is only for business and for employability,« she says, adding that, »we protest against the wave of cutbacks in the universities in connection with the economic crisis. Education should be funded for its own sake, and not just to keep the economy afloat.«

Viennese student activists like Judith are calling for teachers to cancel classes during the official Bologna summit, so students can take part in demonstrations and blockades.

Hijacked by bureaucrats

They have no trouble finding support among teaching staff and academics.

Bologna, which started as a benign political idea to make degrees acceptable abroad and students more mobile, has been hijacked by bureaucrats, explains Robert Pfaller, a philosophy professor from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna with 12 years of experience as an international co-ordinator.

The end state of the Bologna process is a distinction between basic bachelor degrees and higher master degrees for all higher education, with a large proportion of students stopping at the bachelor level, he explains.

But as Robert Pfaller puts it, the bachelors will be disadvantaged by being taught by a »caste of teachers, that can only teach and who should never do research, and a caste of students who should only be taught by these slave teachers.«

The high point of Bologna-inspired reforms was a proposal by former Minister of Science and Research, now EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn, to distinguish between low-tuition-fee bachelors degrees and high-tuition-fee masters, with the masters being kept for only a small and select elite.

But the result would be bachelor students being taught by junior lecturers, making as Pfaller puts it, »cheap teachers for cheap students«.

Not just learning

Especially the Humanities departments resist the regimentation of the Bologna reforms. Bologna-inspired distinctions between learning for the bachelors and research only for the higher degrees cannot be upheld in the humanities and social sciences, they claim.

»You could argue, for some technical disciplines, that there is a certain basic knowledge that can be imparted, but you cannot say this for the humanities. In a way, the humanities have to do the smart things from the beginning, and this means studying something autonomously for a long time,« Pfaller says.

In fact, Pfaller argues, Bologna is out of sync with developments outside the university, as workplaces put a higher and higher premium on autonomous research-like skills, even for the technical disciplines.

Rankings and regimentation

Back in Denmark, student activism has been centred on the cuts to individual departments, like the department of sociology in Copenhagen. The overarching symbolism of the Bologna Process has yet to unite students in protest.

Student unions prefer to see positive things coming out of it and defend the larger Bologna ideals of a European area for higher education.

»We are happy with the overarching Bologna ambitions. But we are unhappy with the implementation of the reforms,« says Mikkel Zeuthen, chairman of the National Union of Students in Denmark. The union is sending a four man delegation to a European Student Summit in Vienna, timed to coincide with the politicians meeting.

»The last couple of years we have been working against tuition fees. We fear that tuition fees one place will lead to tuition fees creeping in to other places too. We are also against the rankings of studies and universities that have been attempted, and the increased regimentation of the universities,« he says.


Konrad Liessmann, another philosophy professor from Vienna and a vocal critic of Bologna, points to his recent book ‘Theorie der Unbildung’ when questioned by the University Post. Especially the Bologna points system for comparing courses, ECTS, and the Bologna study modules is ridiculed.

»A monstrous, and for those involved hardly manageable, counting and rule-working exercise: For this reason a number of ECTS counsellors have needed to be put into action, so that their disturbed clients can be put back on their feet in cases of performance points,« he writes.

The Bologna module schemes are oriented towards »a model of an industrial type case, a bit like that which is practiced in excess by a Swedish furniture company.«

You copy-paste, we skim

In the meantime, the drive for output and efficiency from Bologna-style reforms is turning the humanities and arts into a quest for points, making students mass producers of papers that no-one reads.

As Robert Pfaller puts it:

»We professors get to see three to five term papers a semester from each student. This is crazy! It just makes students good at copy-pasting. And, you know, the funny thing is we professors are not reading the papers either. We are just getting good at skimming them«.