opinionBy Isaac N. Obasi
Lagos — The International Conference on "The African Universities' Adaptation to the Bologna Process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under the aegis of the University Commission for the Development (CUD) of the Conseil Interuniversitaire (CIUF) of the French-speaking Community of Belgium, marks yet another attempt in the series of efforts to get African universities effectively associated with the planned creation of 'European Higher Education Area' by the year 2010. This effort should be seen against the backdrop that European countries want to make their universities highly competitive under globalization so that they would attract more international students from all over the world as universities in the United States of America are currently doing. And more fundamentally, it should be seen against the background that as the globalization dynamics continues to throw up new and challenging realities, individual nation-states, regional groups, universities/associations of them, as well as other organizations, equally continue relentlessly to fashion out measures and policies to confront such realities in a bid to maximize benefits by minimizing the problems of globalization.
The DRC conference was inter alia aimed at examining the decision process that has brought African universities or countries to opt for the Bologna model; the direct or indirect effects of the decision to adopt the Bologna model; the reform of university courses, quality assurance and accreditation, mobility, recognition and joint degrees, professionals masters/research masters and doctoral schools; and the role of international and/or financial organizations in the promotion of the Bologna model. Perhaps some of my readers might want to know what this Bologna Process or model is all about, and what Africa has got to do with it, and in particular Nigeria. Before doing that, a brief background is relevant.
As the Wikipedia (the Free Encyclopadia) makes us to understand, in 1988, during the celebration of the 900th anniversary of the University of Bologna and indeed that of European universities, the European university rectors at the meeting issued the 'Magna Carta Universitatum' committing their institutions to some level of cooperation. Then a decade after (in 1998), education ministers of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom signed the Sorbonne Declaration in Paris and committed themselves a step further to 'harmonizing the architecture of the European Higher Education System'. In June 1999, a more transformatory step was taken when 29 European Ministers of Education met in the Italian city of Bologna and signed what is called today 'The Bologna Declaration' now widely known as a Bologna Process because it involves series of steps or measures to be taken towards implementing the objectives of the declaration. This process is still an ongoing one, as we will see much later in this series. But what then is this declaration all about?
The Joint Declaration of the European Ministers of Education (otherwise known as The Bologna Declaration of 19, June 1999) was driven by the need to build upon and strengthen European 'intellectual, cultural, social, scientific and technological dimensions' of an already established 'Europe of knowledge'. It acknowledges the Sorbonne Declaration's recognition of the central role of 'Universities' in developing European cultural dimensions, as well as its emphasis on the 'creation of the European area of higher education as a key way to promote citizen's mobility and employability and the Continent's overall development'. It recognizes the need to achieve 'greater compatibility and comparability of the systems of higher education' within the European area. And more importantly, it aims at 'increasing the international competitiveness of the European system of higher education', against the backdrop that 'the vitality and efficiency of any civilization can be measured by the appeal that its culture has for other countries'. Consequently, it stresses the 'need to ensure that the European higher education system acquires a world-wide degree of attraction' that equals its 'extraordinary cultural and scientific traditions'. And as EUROPA aptly says, for Europe to be 'more competitive and more attractive for Europeans and for students and scholars from other continents', reform is needed and more so 'if Europe is to match the performance of the best performing systems in the world, notably the United States and Asia.
In pursuance of these, the following six broad objectives were considered to be of 'primary relevance' towards establishing 'the European area of higher education and to promote the European system of higher education world-wide'. First, to adopt a 'system of easily readable and comparable degrees, also through the implementation of the Diploma Supplement, in order to promote European citizens employability and the international competitiveness of the European higher education system'. Secondly, to adopt a harmonized cycles of undergraduate and graduate degree programmes, in which the first cycle is the Bachelor's degree, second cycle, the master's degree and the third cycle, the doctorate degree. Access to the second cycle for instance shall require the completion of the first cycle. Thirdly, to establish a system of credits such as in the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) 'as a proper means of promoting the most widespread student mobility'. Fourthly, to promote 'mobility by overcoming obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement with particular attention to: for students, access to study and training opportunities and to related services', and 'for teachers, researchers and administrative staff, recognition and valorization of periods spent in a European context researching, teaching and training, without prejudicing their statutory rights'. Fifthly, to promote 'European cooperation in quality assurance with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies'. And lastly, to promote 'the necessary European dimensions in higher education, particularly with regards to curricular development, inter-institutional cooperation, mobility schemes and integrated programmes of study, training and research'. To give impetus to the implementation of these objectives, which requires 'constant support, supervision and adaptation to the continuously evolving needs', the ministers agreed to be meeting every two years in order to assess the progress achieved and the new steps o be taken'. The next installment by God's special grace will present a brief overview of these meetings in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2003) and London (2007) with a view to identifying how these processes have shaped the present dimensions of the Bologna Declaration.
Provocative Thought for the Week (No. 37)
Theoretically, the existence of two Legislative Houses in a multi-ethnic federation is always justifiable. But can Nigerians really say that in practice, they have derived meaningful benefit(s) from having two Houses of the National Assembly to really justify the enormous resources expended on them? Is it not time we start thinking of maintaining one Federal Legislative Assembly rather than just copying advanced and rich democracies of the West? Left for me, those dishonourable members of the House who were openly and unabashedly fighting last week should be made to know that we are getting no benefits from them, even when they were not fighting not to talk of when they fight. The huge amount of money expended on them can be used to provide roads, water etc to millions of Nigerians without such essential amenities.
Dr. Obasi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana, Gaborone, Southern Africa.