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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Legends and myths surrounding the Bologna Process

Difficulties with the action program Some universities are sabotaging it
3 June, 2008 - 00:00

(Conclusion. For Part 1,
see The Day no.17, May 27, 2008)

This may be the most controversial and provocative part of my article. I am adamant in my conviction that the introduction of a new list of Bachelor’s degrees under the slogan of “conformity to European standards” has inflicted the greatest damage on Ukrainian post-secondary education in the last few years. My view is shared by others. A well-known and influential rector whom I recently queried about his attitude to the necessity of introducing the new list of Bachelor’s degrees responded with a sharply negative assessment. In response to my next logical question, “How did you, as rector, allow this?” he answered briefly: “Politics.” However, let us get back to arguments and facts.

The new list of Bachelor’s degrees was completed in Ukraine in 2001. Numerous universities had undergone internal structural reforms in order to adjust to the new system. In the next three years, commissions on teaching methods and learning developed state standards which, on orders from the education minister, had to be included in the teaching process of all higher schools, starting from the 2005-06 academic year.

However, dramatic changes took place at the top of the political Olympus, and the new minister publicly declared that, in keeping with the recommendations of the Bologna “experts,” the number of Bachelor’s degrees had to be reduced twofold (there were 76 at the time, compared to 108 in Poland). The years 2005 and 2006 were marked by numerous conferences and debates about the new list. As was to be expected, by the simple arithmetical operation of dividing 76 by two, the bureaucrats in the educational sphere yielded a result that was essentially different from the stated number of 38 (today there are 146).

Despite this, the new list is no worse or better than the previous one. It is simply different. As for “conformity to European standards,” there is nothing I can say here because such educational standards do not exist.

The commissions on teaching methods and learning are busy formulating new standards. At the moment there is no task aimed at creating a single list of Bachelor’s degrees in Europe, and I am convinced there never will be such a list. We are now in the year 2008.

An experienced official at the Ministry of Education told me (or perhaps blurted out) that the Bologna “experts,” in analyzing Ukraine’s higher educational system prior to Bergen, did not have any comments concerning our Bachelor’s degrees. What they saw as a shortcoming was the excessive number of specialties (more than 350 at the time) and, above all, the procedures for approving them by Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers, which make flexibility and the possibility to monitor fluctuations on the labor market impossible. I believe that this is a fundamental and shrewd observation (in Poland, for example, specialties are designated by faculty academic councils).


The Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo tyzhnia has covered this topic (e.g., V. Kremen’s “The Bologna Process: rapprochement, not unification,” no. 48, 2003). But the impression is that not all officials on the ministerial and university levels recall the following lines from the introductory commentary to the Bologna Declaration: “The Bologna process aims at creating convergence and, thus, is not a path towards the ‘standardisation’ or ‘uniformisation’ of European higher education. The fundamental principles of autonomy and diversity are respected” (The Bologna Declaration: an explanation). Most of the examples cited above are graphic proof of this. Let me give you two more examples.

The term “specialist” has been debated for several years. Most experts realize that labor market traditions and the specifics of certain majors indicate that this description can continue being used. However, there is a myth according to which the Bologna process purportedly does not allow this; there must be either a Bachelor or a Master’s degree. Then why does England, the trendsetter in the Bologna Process, recognize at least six qualifications during five years of university study? Why not retain the current practice of two different qualifications in the second cycle of study with their traditional names?

From time to time universities are instructed to reduce the number of classroom hours a week. These directives do not take into account the specifics of a given curriculum or the actual conditions for self- study (libraries, Internet access). I asked two professors from a leading Canadian university about the number of classroom hours in the current semester. One of them, a political scientist, said 15 hours, while the other, a professor of chemical technology, said 44 hours. In answer to my question concerning the obligatory number of hours a student must devote to a course, both professors said 60 hours a week.


In the next part of my article I would like to dwell on the credit- module system in organizing the teaching process, which is supposedly required by the Bologna Process. The very term “credit-module” is a source of misunderstandings. According to the ECTS Glossary, a module is a synonym for discipline, and a credit is a unit of a module’s workload measurement. Each module invariably has a credit dimension. Semantically, the term “credit-module” is an analog of “hourly-temporal” or “meter- length.”

But the trouble is that this initial inaccuracy has given rise to a number of other problems. The module started being interpreted as part of a course unit (e.g., a semester divided into two modules). Then a new term, “study module,” was coined to mean part of a discipline. Study modules are evaluated independently, so it became possible to receive a semester mark without taking exams. Universities appeared from which one could graduate with honors without having taken a single exam. When I discussed this with Prof. Hans Kaiser, his unequivocal conclusion was, “You’ll dismantle everything.”

This should not be surprising because all of this directly contradicts the ECTS, which the Bologna Process recommends, and the ideology of training a European baccalaureate. Incidentally, students at the Vienna University of Technology take two compulsory exams for all disciplines in the natural sciences-mathematics cycle: a written one, and, if the student passes it, an oral one.

It must be remembered that the goal of all the recommendations on the use of a set of tools (ECTS, Supplement to a diploma, European Quality Assurance Standards, European Qualifications Framework, etc.) is to secure transparency and intelligibility of the teaching process and documents about education and the guarantee of quality instruction. All the rest is the prerogative of universities and national education administrators.

However, I would like to single out one particular tool. We all know why the Tower of Babel was never completed. Why are we trying to reform our educational system “in accordance with European standards” without using the terminology that was specially developed for this purpose? “Credit-module” is just one of many examples. The basic term “module” is totally confusing; there are also terms, such as “study module,” “credit module,” and “module” as part of a semester. My advice is to use the glossary of the project Tuning Educational Structures in Europe, which was specially initiated by the European Commission to reach the targets of the Bologna Process, quickly develop a Ukrainian explanatory dictionary, and then “strongly recommend” its usage only in institutions of higher learning. This does not mean that I am in favor of restricting the usage of terms that are traditionally used in our education system, but the fundamental concepts of the European Space for Higher Education should be determined.


Autonomy, the cornerstone of university education and scholarship in all times, is also one of the main principles of the Bologna Process. Professor Ivan Vakarchuk, the newly appointed Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, has been a long-time, consistent supporter of the idea of granting autonomy in education and scholarly activity. During a recent session of the ministry’s Collegium, the question of expanding university autonomy was one of the key points on the agenda. This inspires optimism, so I will touch on just two components of this problem, solving which is easier said than done.

In my opinion, the real level of a professor’s (lecturer’s) autonomy at a university is critically low. It has reached the point that at some universities lecturers are instructed on what lectures they should give, how they should present them, and even how to test their students’ knowledge. All this absolutely contradicts traditions, reduces respect for both the individual and the system on the whole, eliminates diversity (remember how people used to come out to hear a lecture by a certain professor?), and lowers the level of dedication.

The second component is autonomy of the university community vis-a-vis the university administration. In Poland, the heads of higher educational establishments spent a great deal of energy and time struggling for real, not paper, autonomy. In the end, changes were made to the legislation whereby a Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland and the Supreme School Council (consisting of university representatives) has the right to veto any normative documents and decisions that have a direct bearing on the content and organization of the teaching process. The state must in practice recognize that the university system is where a nation’s main intellectual potential is concentrated and that, for the most part, universities know how to function optimally in concrete conditions.

When I was preparing this article, I asked my students to formulate a thesis that is widespread in their milieu and is believed to be true, but which engenders inner resistance, incomprehension, disagreement, and protest. I will ask my readers to analyze this student myth: the Bologna system envisages the introduction of testing procedures, entrance exams and credit-module study, which make corruption in universities impossible.