The Bologna Process : Minced Meat, Cheese And Plenty Of Tomato Sauce... by Andrea Stern

20/07/2010 20:58

 In the course of this text I will mainly refer to the following quote as well as the interesting Official Bologna Process Website in general (http://www.ond.vlaanderen.be/hogeronderwijs/bologna):   

   

"In the decade up to 2020 European higher education has a vital contribution to make in realising a Europe of knowledge that is highly creative and  innovative... Europe can only succeed in this endeavour if it maximises the talents and capacities of all its citizens and  fully engages in lifelong  learning as well as in widening participation in higher education."

 

I like Italian food. I eat their salads, their panini, their pizza, and their desserts and I drink their coffee. I like Ragout Bolognese, or Spaghetti Bolognese as they call it outside of Italy. Indeed, I like Italian food so much, I would follow or believe anything provided it reminded me of its taste or even its smell because I think that Italian food is invariably genuine. So, how come I do not like the Bologna Process? After all, I made important decisions purely based on my Italophily. For instance: I chose one person over another some years ago, purely due to the fact that we decided to prepare Italian food together. So how can I not praise the Bologna Process? Certainly, a Ragout Bolognese is not as ordered and symmetrical as an Anglo-Saxon cheeseburger, but it requires careful planning and it tastes great (if not better) in the end. It is a living piece of delicious art. Yet something keeps bothering me about this reform. For all those who do not know what to make of my culinary pseudo philosophy: The Bologna Process has been initiated by a number of European Education Secretaries in 1999 to create a so-called “European Higher Education Area”. They decided to unify degrees and improve the quality of education, and want to increase the attractiveness of EU universites to foreign students, ultimately giving EU students better chances of competing with their 'rival' students from other countries.

Being a fan of country mottos, those little forgotten phrases that form the holy trinity of national identity (the flag, the anthem and the country motto), the first thing coming to my mind is the EU motto: “United in diversity”. Apart from the fact that you can form the anagram “indited University” out of that motto, I wonder why the European Council decided to equalise educational formalities and standards. Should we instead not be glad that Europe's scientific future will be dominated by a diverse network of universities, teaching different methodological approaches and theories under different administrative conditions? Would it not contribute to the scientific progress of Europe, if we cherished diversity of opinion and a more dialectic approach towards sciences and arts and regarded the administrative processes as a part of it? Different degrees, lengths of study, structures and organisation of education in general, necessarily contribute to these differences because they both refer to past traditions and customs. The Magister Artium refers to the Humanist Era and the Age of Enlightenment, dates back as far as the Middle Ages, and it is a symbol of the many battles students and scholars have fought over the last 500 years to pave the road for today's educational and scientific system. Are we forgetting Humanism that, among other concepts, made the European Union possible in the first place, advocating human rights, civil rights and democracy?

I agree that the Bologna Process may be, at its very best, an attempt to construct a pan-European identity, to prepare Europe for future projects and challenges. But am I mistaken if I read something terribly pessimistic between the lines, namely that the citizens of individual EU member states are unable to co-operate and work together with other academics unless they perceive them as equally titled? Is it not outrageous that we are supposed to see foreign students as 'rivals' on the job market, unless their politicians participate in a barely known and highly artificial council of political leaders that goes over the heads of their own electorate? What future can Europe expect anyway if a German with a diploma looks down on someone with a Master's degree or vice versa? The Erasmus Programme, the most important and prominent attempt to increase mobility and intercultural contact, works unbelievably smooth after all, despite differences, having sent 180,000 students on exchanges back in 2007/08.

Personifications and metaphors, stylistic devices in general, are employed by governments, as they allow for carefully hidden ideology. To return to the quote above: how can higher education contribute to anything? Is this a metonymic reference to current and future academics? What does it mean to "maximise talents and capacities,” and why does it remind me awfully of 'profit maximisation'? I think the Bologna Process is a symptom of the ever increasing influence corporate lobbies have gained over literally all aspects of our life.  They have become so strong that corporations change the way our educational system works and not the other way round. You may call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that. I see the influence banks exercise over the European Ministries of Economies, and I have a sense of déjà vu. I know that if it were not for tuition fees (€1084 per year in Bavaria), I would not work as a cheap and yet highly qualified office worker for 20 hours a week. Cheap and qualified employees. That is how human resources management sees students, as I have been told by students of that very discipline (simply enter “Students are cheap” into a search engine, if you do not believe me). Is a shorter duration of study, as enforced by the Bologna Process, necessary to create a pan-European identity, which supposedly builds on diversity? Or is it an attempt to cover the gaping office-chairs of an ageing capitalist society preparing itself for future competition with other continents?

There are imminent dangers that may linger in thoughtless equalisation. Luckily, the student protests of 2009 showed there are means of communication and solidarisation between universities. At least 80 European universities were involved in coordinating a strike to solve what the protesting students called an educational crisis. I was present and helped seizing the Auditorium Maximum at the University of Munich last autumn. We established a direct democracy, held elections, decided on how to solve problems, debated on politics and pretty much everything else. We ate cold pasta in an improvised kitchen and slept on sleeping bags on the university floor between lectures and seminars that month. A student with a beer bottle told me a week before the protests were ended peacefully, “This whole Bologna thing stinks.” I think I am beginning to smell whatever he smelt then. He added that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. That would sound banal if he had not been from Russia. The very fact somehow takes away a lot of banality.

Will diversity in the end prevail over uniformity or will we forever lose our Magister Artium, Diplom, and Staatsexamen to a Bachelor's Degree? Can the whole European endeavour be successful in the face of the influence of corporations and lobbies trying to foster their short-sighted economic goals? Suddenly I feel hungry and remember the cold, energy-rich cheeseburger on my desk. Lying in its greasy cardboard box, it reminds me of the Bologna Process for some reason. Carbs, minced meat, cheese, and plenty of tomato sauce. The importance of shape and form has never been more obvious to me.

The Bologna Process : Minced Meat, Cheese And Plenty Of Tomato Sauce... by Andrea Stern

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