The Bologna Declaration

A bet on the future and a process of integration
In 1999, in Bologna still, at Santa Lucia, the Aula of the University, while the film of the Magna Charta ceremony in 1988 was playing in the background, the Ministers of higher education of 29 countries in Europe (covering an area much wider than the Union) signed a Declaration indicating their intention to create a European Area of Higher Education by 2010, i.e., an open space with common references in terms of learning structures, credit use, quality evaluation, curricular development and mobility of people and ideas. The Bologna Declaration – that had been preceded by a shorter document signed by four Ministers in Paris in 1998 at the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the Sorbonne -, while quoting the Magna Charta, proposed another way to bring together the citizens of Europe, that is through an intergovernmental initiative, that would build on the same premises as the Magna Charta: Europe exists, it is for the Europeans to show it ! This time by adopting common rules of behaviour, governments agreeing to share similar tools of change (BA & MA learning structures, diploma supplement, ECTS or quality agencies) in order to develop strategies of convergence. This should lead to an area of higher education in which teachers, students, funds and ideas can be called for from everywhere in Europe in order to work anywhere in Europe – as if it were a single political space whose internal national borders are becoming secondary.

To support their political will, Ministers also called for the full participation of the members of the higher education and research communities: governments can create the conditions of integrated behaviour; the needs and content of such patterns of work, however, are best explained and understood by the universities themselves. Thus, academic institutions have to become full partners in the design of an integrated Europe of knowledge. In a way, the Bologna Declaration calls universities to put their act together, public authorities ensuring the conditions of development for a European Higher Education Area, while the universities – as providers of learning – can make it all happen.

To meet this challenge, higher education institutions need to reaffirm their capacity to initiate, adapt and transform; they are asked to show responsibility for new social endeavours – brought together under the term of the Europe of knowledge. To be relevant partners in the evolution of society, however, universities need autonomy and the freedom to create, i.e., they need to abide by the principles of the Magna Charta. In other words, the Bologna Declaration adds to the importance of the Charter, as both documents reinforce each other on the way to an integrated Europe whose citizens can choose fully their professions, residence, work places, training and ideas – anywhere they live or come from in the area. Indeed, their “European-ness” already transcends their national identity.

Bologna as a common label seems to confuse the two papers – the academic and the intergovernmental ones; yet, they are the two sides of the same coin, Europe unveiled, i.e., a reference to shared values and principles founding an integrated continent.