The Bologna Process
Within the context of the Europe-wide Bologna Process, Germany's Federal Government, Länder, and institutions of higher education are conducting the largest higher education reform in decades. Since its 1999 inception in the Italian university city of Bologna, this reform process has aimed to establish internationally accepted degrees, improve the quality of courses of study, and enhance employability. The number of students in Germany has also increased as a result of the reforms. Furthermore, it has clearly enhanced the international mobility of German students and the attractiveness of German institutions of higher education for students and young researchers from abroad.
The Bologna process now involves the cooperation of 47 states as well as the EU Commission and eight further organizations in the area of higher education. Its characteristic partnership approach means that institutions of higher education, students, and social partners are all actively involved. The reforms have created a great dynamic in the educational landscape of Europe and continue to have considerable impact on the national higher education systems.
The Bologna Declaration and the Communiqués of the Conferences of Ministers specify the following points of the Bologna Process:
- Introduction of a system of comprehensible and comparable degrees (Bachelor and Master)
- Introduction of the two-cycle degree structure (undergraduate/graduate)
- Transparency of study contents by means of credit points and the Diploma Supplement
- Recognition of degrees and phases of study
- Promotion of mobility of students and academic staff
- Safeguarding of quality standards at national and European levels
- Implementation of a qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area
- Increase in the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area, including for those outside the EU
- Promotion of lifelong learning
- Linking of the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area
Many of the aims listed above have already been largely implemented in the Bologna countries. Nevertheless, there are a number of tasks yet to be implemented: not only in countries which did not join the Bologna Process until a later date but also in long-standing member countries. These tasks include enhancing mobility, improving employability, and recognizing qualifications, academic achievements, and skills and knowledge acquired outside higher education. In the future, changing circumstances, particularly regarding demography and globalization, must also be taken more seriously into account. Further measures must be taken to encourage equal opportunities and permeability in the higher education system - the social dimension of the Bologna Process.
85 per cent of all courses of study at German institutions of higher education (13,000 of a total of 15,300 courses) had been converted to two-cycle Bachelor/Master courses by the beginning of the 2011/2012 winter semester. The universities of applied sciences in particular have virtually completed the reform. The majority of the courses that have not been converted lead to state or ecclesiastical qualifications.
The Bachelor system is better than its reputation: On the whole, graduates with a Bachelor's degree enter employment without any difficulties according to a study entitled "Mit dem Bachelor in den Beruf" ("starting a career with a Bachelor's degree"). The majority of graduates, however, tend to continue their academic training with a Master's degree. The BMBF has launched numerous initiatives to promote the Bologna Process and ensure greater acceptance by all those involved.
A recent survey reports that Germany was the first choice for 61 per cent of international students studying in the country (up from 47 per cent in 2009). It also reports that the procedure for recognising foreign qualifications has improved: In 2012 the rate of recognition of foreign academic degrees was 75 per cent, compared to only 60 per cent in 2009. It is interesting to note that international students are taking more advantage of various forms of support than in the past. The greatest increase is in the numbers of those expressing satisfaction about the information regarding residence regulations and assistance in dealing with public authorities.
Membership of the Bologna Process is open to all countries which have signed the European Cultural Convention and have declared their willingness to pursue and implement the objectives of the Bologna Process in their own higher education sector.
The higher education institutions in the 47 partner countries are undergoing a demanding and at the same time very promising process of development. This process began in 1998.