Critical viewpoints on the Bologna Process in Europe: Can we do otherwise?

Mar. 01, 2019

Source: European Educational Research Journal. Volume: 18 issue: 2, page(s): 135-157

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In view of the many ways in which the Bologna Process (BP) involving 48 member states affects conditions for the future development of internationalization in higher education (HE) across Europe, the authors suggest that the implications of the BP deserve close and ongoing attention.
The BP is an open method of coordination (OMC) and an intergovernmental means of governance in the European Union (EU), based on the voluntary cooperation of its member states.
The material involved in this article also includes studies that express critical viewpoints related to the BP, whether it is described as not being desirable for some reason, as problematic in some sense, and/or as problematic in terms of ‘what to avoid’.
The present study deepens the previous examination of actual and possible developments and illustrates the critical viewpoints related to the BP.
The results deepening the understanding of the BP from a critical point of view.
The author claims that this study is applicable in the wider debate on internationalization as a phenomenon that will positively or negatively affect the future of HE ideology and practice.
This includes views on humanity, society, epistemology, pedagogy and policy and politics on institutional, local, societal and international levels.
In acknowledging the BP as a strong force in the past decade, influencing HE in Europe and beyond, the author feels that it is reasonable to raise some valid concerns about the process.

This study is the follow up to a previous study (Wihlborg and Teelken, 2014) and also involves studies published between 2013 and 2016.
It aims to refine those studies by the researcher by identifying and looking at research that expresses critical viewpoints.
Data were collected from the Education Resource Information Center (ERIC, EBSCOhost) international database for the social sciences and education, which provided the researcher with an overview of the field.
Data collection involved several steps, namely choosing relevant databases and search criteria and stating further delimitations. In all, a total of 38 articles were selected for further analysis.

Interpretation analysis
The three themes identified in the analysis by the researcher were labelled as follows: heterogenization, differentiation and idiosyncratic forces (n = 18); domination through harmonization and homogenization, as well as the making of citizen scenarios (n = 26); and policy-constructed neoliberal knowledge scenarios (n = 24).

Findings and Discussion
It was observed by the author that few studies took a distinct critical stance when examining the effects of the BP.
This observation suggests that ambiguities and some undesirable effects exist in the BP in terms of its structural shape, content and underlying pedagogical intentions.

In this article the author set out to investigate critical viewpoints on the BP, and each of the included studies focused on various issues/problems and consequences, what to avoid and undesirable outcomes related to the BP and HE in Europe.

The themes identified in the present analysis reveal a variety of approaches, discussing problematic aspects of the BP in several frameworks and contexts.
Researchers were concerned with international relationships, the world’s economic and social order, the development of European HE institutions, becoming a citizen, governance, university organization and management, teaching and learning in HE, and issues related to the development and views of knowledge.

Research implications
The author suggests that a meta-analysis concerning the BP discourse and its consequences is justified in terms of illustrating where not to go from here, what pitfalls to avoid, what direction is most desirable and for what reasons, and whether and why there are any conflicts of interest.
It is recommended by the author that methods that can handle complex material and highlight different scenarios be used.
The author feels that in terms of the relationships between the BP discourse and the world, such predictions could shed light on what future outcomes are the most advantageous and not based primarily on economic growth.
A presentation of several outcomes provides an opportunity to compare and understand the differences between these outcomes from a national, international and global perspective.
The author recommends that we must look at the deeper implications of competing and the opposite and alternative conceptualizations of HE as a phenomenon (e.g. those that counteract a market-driven perspective), and perhaps consider how they relate to wider, contemporary and emerging societal challenges.

Wihlborg M and Teelken C (2014) Striving for Uniformity, Hoping for Innovation and Diversification: A critical review concerning the Bologna Process-providing an overview and reflecting on the criticism. Policy Futures in Education 12(8): 1084–1100. 

Updated: Sep. 12, 2019