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.
If we are to make use of the enormous potential of higher education institutions in Europe we must enhance the mobility of students and academic staff within Europe and the comparability and mutual recognition of qualifications. The Education Ministers of Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom took the opportunity of the celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of the University of Paris on 25 May 1998 to announce their intention – in the so-called Sorbonne Declaration – to establish structural compatibility between European institutions of higher education, remove existing obstacles to mobility and establish the basis for improved European cooperation between institutions of higher education. The European Higher Education Area is to be visible, competitive and also attractive for students from third states.
Other European states responded positively to the initiative of the signatories to the Sorbonne Declaration. On19 June 1999, 30 European countries signed the so-called Bologna Declaration and expressed their aim to establish a common European Higher Education Area by 2010. The Federal Government and the Länder signed jointly on behalf of Germany, thus committing themselves to reforming the German higher education system within the European context.
It was agreed in the Bologna Declaration that special conferences should be held every two years to establish whether the objectives have been achieved in the Member States and to take stock of progress. Representatives of 33 signatory states attended the first Bologna Follow-up Conference in Prague on 19 May 2001. A further seven European states joined the Bologna Process at the second Follow-up Conference, which was held in Berlin on 18 and 19 September 2003. The third Follow-up Conference took place in Bergen (Norway) on 19 and 20 May 2005, and the fourth in London on 17 and 18 May 2007. Central objectives and agreements between the participants are laid down in the respective Communiqués of the Conferences of Ministers.
The Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) organized the fifth Follow-up Conference in the Belgian cities of Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve on 28/29 April 2009. The Ministers from the 46 Bologna states decided to continue their good cooperation both with each other and with the institutions involved over the next ten years in the Leuven Communiqué. Continued cooperation on the complete implementation of the reforms is necessary in order to enhance the attractiveness of the European institutions of higher education, increase student mobility and develop lifelong learning. Increasing the mobility of both students and academic staff remains one of the central aims of the Bologna Process. It was agreed in Leuven that 20% of all graduates Europe-wide should have completed part of their studies or a practical abroad by the year 2020. Following the Conference of Ministers in Leuven, representatives from 15 non-European countries took part for the first time in a Bologna Forum to sound out the opportunities for greater cooperation.
Austria and Hungary held a Bologna Jubilee Conference in their respective capital cities on 11 and 12 March 2010 Bologna-Jubiläumskonferenz, where Ministers from the meanwhile 47 Bologna states – Kazakhstan was accepted as a new member – launched the European Higher Education Area. In the Budapest-Vienna Declaration, they take stock of the successes of the Europe-wide process of higher education reform since 1999 and allow that further work is still necessary to realize their goals.
The seventh Follow-Up Conference was held in Bucharest on 26 and 27 April 2012. In the Bucharest Communique, the ministers emphasized the significance of investing in education. Despite financial difficulties in many European countries, they understand investing in education to be, in fact, the answer to the financial crisis and other social challenges. A focus of the work in the coming years will be strengthening the international mobility of students. The ministers thus agreed on the Mobility Strategy 2020. It expands on the mobility agreements reached at Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve and supports them with concrete measures. The ministers expressed emphatic support for further implementation of the Bologna reforms and also stressed the significance of employability. At the same time, they qualified higher education as an open process which is to provide students with specialized knowledge and skills, but which should also help produce self-aware and critical individuals.
The next Bologna Conference to discuss targets and progress will be held in Armenia in 2015.