University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Ministers’ Vienna waltz out of step

Critical reports from EU Commission and European university lobbyists come at the worst possible time

As European ministers brush off their dinner jackets for a Budapest-Vienna extravaganza celebrating education reforms, a spate of not-so-good evaluations of the higher education system threaten to spoil all the fun.

A report from the EU Commission, and a lukewarm appraisal by a normally supportive universities lobby group, adds official criticism to the non-official student and staff protests.

Education and science ministers are to meet up in Budapest and Vienna 10-11 March, celebrating ten years of the so-called Bologna process education reforms.

Less money per student

Unfazed by the pomp, students from throughout Europe are already closing in on Vienna promising non-violent action outside the ministerial conference. The Bologna celebrations are seen by students and activist staff as a provocation in the light of university cutbacks and what is seen as corporate style reform of the university. A counter-summit has been organised with opinion makers and non-officials.

According to the EU Commission report cited in EU Observer, European governments bend the truth when they report that they have maintained education funding:

»The number of enrolled students has increased while the budget has more or less stayed the same, or the budget has decreased while student numbers have remained stable or increased,« the Commission writes.

Education under stress

While in the last year a majority of countries, budgets have seen »positive developments«, many are hinting of budgetary decreases in the coming years, the report writes. Stakeholders should be »particularly cautious about the number of countries where trends initially appear to be positive.«

Countries have stretched out their planned spending over a longer time period, undermining the university and college system.

»If significant funding cuts are continued in some countries, the long-term sustainable development of these higher education systems could come under major stress,« the report writes.

Employers don’t recognize bachelors

In a parallel development, a report recently released from the university lobbyists European University Association (EUA) shows that »after ten years the ‘Bologna architecture’ is now firmly in place to build a strong common higher education area«.

But with this said, the EUA writes that employers in Europe still don’t recognise the bachelor’s degree.

The Europe-wide bachelor’s degree / master’s degree distinction is one of the key objects of the Bologna reforms.

Student travel unknown

The EUA report, which surveyed 800 universities, also states that there is »little robust data available on mobility flows and how this has progressed during Bologna,« education analysts’ shorthand for the fact that it is not known whether more European students travel abroad.

The EUA indeed urges politicians to do more to promote student mobility and to remove obstacles to internationalisation of the universities.

Looking forward, there is a lack of additional public funding at the national level to further implement the Bologna reforms, the EUA writes.