Europe is the source of the modern university, and the European Union (EU) is currently in a process of steady educational reform that constitutes the largest reform ever undertaken in human history. Initially confined to the geography of the EU, but now extending far beyond its political borders, this reform is called the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and continues to develop as this article is read.

The Beginnings of Reform:
“Necessary European Dimensions”

The EHEA grew out of an initial 1999 Bologna Declaration, which committed 29 EU member states to a Process with six goals:

  • Easily readable and comparable degrees
  • Two main educational cycles (undergraduate and graduate)
  • A European Credit Transfer System
  • Mobility of students and faculty
  • European cooperation in quality assurance
  • “Promotion of the necessary European dimensions in higher education, particularly with regards to curricular development, inter-institutional co-operation, mobility schemes and integrated programmes of study, training and research”

The last goal has inspired and puzzled, a response range among Europeans themselves that invites further inquiry.

For some, these dimensions are simply the outcome of the prior listed items, little more. But this fails to justify the separate, distinctive phrasing. For others within the EU, the reference appears to be taken as little more than a “sloganeering” nod to the politics of the EU experiment. Yet, for some, these necessary European dimensions reflect a deep-felt historical recognition of mission.

“European dimensions” reflect concerns about culture, society, language, and the trans-national effort of its peoples to democratically unify for peace and prosperity a continent that has known enough of war and strife. For these EU citizens, these necessary European dimensions remain the remote attractor, a projection—much like the North star—that remotely guides the way along a path of reform and innovation.

The 1999 Bologna Process in Action

Bureaucratically, the 1999 Bologna Process began as “an autonomous intergovernmental arrangement, based on a common policy document (the Bologna Declaration) to which European countries may become parties and in which the European Union plays a role” (Reinalda & Kulesza, 2005, p. 7). Yet Bologna is a curious Process. It lacks legal sanctions but packs plenty of implicit coercion.

This is succinctly noted by the Confederation of EU Rectors’ Conference and Association of European Universities:

Any pressure individual countries and higher education institutions may feel from the Bologna process could only result from their ignoring increasingly common features or staying outside the mainstream of change” (Confederation of EU Rectors’ Conferences and the Association of European Universities, 2000: 3). The Rectors continue, “Universities and other institutions of higher education can choose to be actors, rather than objects, of this essential process of change (Ibid., p. 6).

As one of Denmark’s national universities, Copenhagen Business School (CBS) was proactive in the Bologna Process from the outset. Because the Danish system already had a structured university system consistent with Process goals, fewer changes were needed. Still, changes were made: learning-objective-based course curriculum reforms diffused, intensive courses that did not match quarter or semester length were replaced or restructured, and, perhaps most challenging, student housing and international student office infrastructure supports were developed. Locally, then, CBS students, faculty, and administrative staff have all been witness/participants in an educational renovation and reform process of an international, cross-border scale without precedent. The only other reform of this scale has been the global diffusion of the 1599 Ratio Studiorum of the Society of Jesus throughout its network of educational institutions.

The EHEA Transformation

In 2010, the Bologna Process officially transformed into the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Today, this Area spans a geographical range from Greenland in the West, to Ukraine and the Russian Federation’s Eastern borders. There are now 48 participating nations. All commit to “freedom of expression, autonomy for institutions, independent students unions, academic freedom, free movement of students and staff” (European Higher Education Area and Bologna Process, 2017).

What kind of education and curriculum research is going on within the EHEA? How do faculty from one educational institution participate in the EHEA process and manifest their contribution through teaching and research? What role might the insight-based critical realism of Bernard J.F. Lonergan have in core epistemological decisions for curriculum design within the EHEA? In the next post, we will look at the Presenters Symposium contribution from CBS faculty in the August 2017 Academy of Management conference, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.: “Curriculum at the interface: The European Higher Education Area and Copenhagen Business School,” Program Session 887; Monday, Aug. 7, 8:00am – 9:30am, Hilton Atlanta, Rm. 304. Click here to learn more.

Charles T. Tackney, Ph.D. Associate Professor
Department of Management, Society, and Communications
Copenhagen Business School
Dalga Have 15, Frederiksberg, Denmark

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