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The Bologna process: making higher education systems in Europe converge

10 December 2009
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 10 December 2009

The Bologna process aims inter alia to make divergent higher education systems across the European Union converge towards a more transparent system by 2010, based on three cycles: Degree/Bachelor - Master - Doctorate.



Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999, adopted by 29 countries in order to make the higher education systems in Europe converge.


The Bologna Declaration initiates the so-called Bologna process, which is designed to introduce a system of academic degrees that are easy to read and compare, to promote the mobility of students, teachers and researchers, to ensure quality in education and to take into account the European dimension of higher education. The process will end in 2010.

Making academic degrees comparable and promoting mobility

The Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999 involves six actions relating to:

  • a system of academic degrees which are easy to read and compare. It includes the introduction of a diploma supplement in order to improve transparency;
  • a system based essentially on two cycles: a first cycle geared to the employment market and lasting at least three years and a second cycle (Master) conditional upon the completion of the first cycle;
  • a system of accumulation and transfer of credits of the ECTS type used in the Socrates-Erasmus exchange scheme;
  • mobility of students, teachers and researchers: elimination of all obstacles to the freedom of movement;
  • cooperation with regard to quality assurance;
  • the European dimension of higher education: expand at all levels on modules, teaching and study areas where the content, guidance or organisation has a European dimension.

The Prague Communiqué of 19 May 2001 added the following actions to the Bologna process:

  • lifelong learning is an essential element of the European Higher Education Area in order to address economic competitiveness;
  • the involvement of higher education institutions and students; the Ministers underline the importance of the involvement of universities, of other higher education establishments and in particular of students in order to create a constructive European Higher Education Area;
  • promote the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area among students in Europe and in other parts of the world.

At the 2003 Berlin conference, the Ministers responsible for higher education adopted a communiqué which includes doctorate studies and synergies between the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area (ERA) in the Bologna process. The Ministers underlined the importance of research, research training and the promotion of interdisciplinary research to maintain and improve the quality of higher education and strengthen its competitiveness. They called for increased mobility at doctorate and post-doctorate level and encouraged the establishments in question to enhance their cooperation in the spheres of doctorate studies and training young researchers.

The Bergen communiqué of 20 May 2005 noted that significant progress had been made concerning the objectives of the process, as illustrated in the 2003-2005 monitoring group's general report. By 2007, when the next meeting will be held, the Ministers would like to have made progress in the following areas in particular:

  • implementing references and guidelines to guarantee quality, as proposed in the ENQA report (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education);
  • introducing national qualification frameworks ;
  • awarding and recognising joint degrees, including at doctorate level;
  • creating opportunities for flexible pathways for training in higher education, including the existence of provisions for the validation of experience.

Prior to the meeting of Ministers in May 2007 in London, United Kingdom, the European Commission published a document of 24 January 2006 called "From Bergen to London - the contribution of the European Union".

Reform of higher education systems in Europe

The present declaration is a voluntary undertaking by each signatory country to reform its own education system: this reform is not imposed on the national governments or universities. As for the Member States of the EU, Article 149 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC Treaty) states that the Community "shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States". The Member States are still fully responsible for the content and the organisation of their education system. Community action is aimed at:

  • developing the European dimension in education, particularly through the learning and dissemination of the languages of the Member States;
  • encouraging mobility of students and teachers, inter alia by encouraging the academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study;
  • promoting cooperation between educational establishments.


On 18 September 1988, to mark the 900 years since the founding of the University of Bologna, the university rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum. They considered that "at the approaching end of this millennium the future of mankind depends largely on cultural, scientific and technical development". Universities shape this knowledge.

To celebrate the 800 years of the University of Paris, the Ministers responsible for higher education in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom adopted the Sorbonne Declaration report on 25 May 1998. This declaration aimed at harmonising the architecture of the European higher education system. The Ministers stressed "the Europe we are building is not only that of the euro, the banks and the economy, it must be a Europe of knowledge as well".

The Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999 has been signed by 29 European countries, including the then 15 Member States of the European Union (EU) (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom) as well as the 10 States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia). Cyprus, also a member of the EU since May 2004 commenced participation in the Bologna process following acceptance of its application for accession to the process by the ministers in Prague 2001. Iceland, Norway and the Swiss Confederation are also signatories to the Declaration, as are Bulgaria and Romania, who became members of the European Union on 1st January 2007.

Today, more than 40 countries participate in the Bologna process after having fulfilled the accession conditions and procedures. The countries subscribing to the European Cultural Convention, signed on 19 December 1954 under the aegis of the Council of Europe, are eligible for membership of the European Higher Education Area, provided that they declare their intention to incorporate the objectives of the Bologna process into their own higher education system. Their membership applications must include information on the way in which they will implement the principles and objectives.

The Bologna process is in line with the objectives of the Lisbon strategy.

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