Kwiek: European Research and Education Area, the Bologna declaration and the Lisbon strategy : de-velopments (working title)

Marek Kwiek

The Bologna process of creating the European Higher Education Area and the simultaneous, gradual emergence of the European Research Area can be viewed as the two sides of the same coin: that of the redefinition of the roles, missions, tasks, and obligations of the institution of the university in rapidly changing and increasingly market-driven and knowledge-based European societies and economies. Both teaching and research are undergoing substantial transformations today and the institution of the university that until fairly recently had been almost an exclusive site in hosting the two interrelated activities in all probability will not be able to avoid the process of substantial, partly planned and partly chaotic, transformation of its functioning.

Even though there were separate tracks in thinking about the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA), there has been clear convergence between them recently. (We can distinguish between three tracks in recent developments: the Magna Charta Universitatum signed in Bologna 1988 by rectors of European universities initiated the track of higher education institutions, with the Salamanca and Graz Conventions in 2001 and 2003; Sorbonne – Bologna – Prague and Berlin meetings have been all on the track of national ministers of education/governments; and the last track was that of the EU level and consisted of subsequent communiqués of the European Commission and other documents, from the first Towards a European Research Area of 2000 to the two most recent: The Role of Universities in the Europe of Knowledge and Researchers in the European Research Area: One Profession, Multiple Careers, both of 2003). Recently, the supranational, intergovernmental and inter-institutional levels are being increasingly mixed.

The Bologna process seems somehow inward-looking: while globally, the impact of globalization on higher education policies is widely acknowledged, none of the official documents – from Sorbonne to Bologna to Prague to Berlin, and none of the accompanying declarations (Salamanca and Graz) – even once uses the word “globalization”. In general, the underlying assumptions are not developed in more detail in any of its documents or reports. Unquestionably, though, globalization is one of the main driving forces behind current transformations of the public sector, welfare state model and educational policies worldwide; globalization is also one of the main reference points in the EU overall Lisbon strategy.

The ambivalence of the Bologna process concerns the process of globalization itself: roughly, following Dirk Van Damme, there may be at least two contrasting (and simplified) global views of Bologna. The first view may present it as a merely introduction to a much further-reaching integration of national educational systems in the future, resulting from competitive pressures from other parts of the world resulting in turn from global liberalization of operations of higher education institutions worldwide (especially in two biggest “exporters” of educational services, North America and Australasia). The second, contrasting, view may present Bologna as a large-scale defensive mechanism to avoid the pitfalls of globalization as seen (and mostly disliked) globally today and to stay together in Europe against the global odds. Thus the first view may imply a strong convergence between Bologna and globalisation processes on a regional scale, especially in the future, while the second may imply an attempt to make national educational systems stronger against the forces of globalization and to stay away from whatever is seen as its excesses in higher education, especially the processes of privatization, commercialization, commodification etc. Due to the ambivalence of the process, I find it difficult to say which of the views would be a more adequate description of it today. The two threads are certainly very much interwoven in Bologna documents. Both “protectionist” threads for the European level (especially in referrals to education as a public “good and responsibility” which means mostly calls for public funding from national states in the future) and “expansionist” threads of attracting foreign students and researchers in a global competition for talent can be found.

The Bologna process is based on the underlying assumptions (not really formulated in a single place) that both Europe and the world are entering a new era of knowledge-based and market-driven economies competing against each other; Europe as a region has to struggle with its two main competitors in higher education and research and development: the USA and Japan (Australasia); the knowledge society depends for its growth on the production, transmission, dissemination, and use of new knowledge; the underlying goal behind current transformations of educational systems and research and development, whether expressed directly (in ERA documents) or indirectly (accompanied by the “social dimension”, in EHEA documents), is more or less to meet the target set out by the European Council in Lisbon (in 2000): Europe by 2010 must become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”. Also the creation of the European Higher Education Area must be completed by 2010 (how to develop benchmarks of success and what is going to happen after the deadline are other issues). Europe is at the crossroads; it is trying to combine higher competitiveness and social cohesion in an increasingly globalized world and it is in the process of transition towards a “knowledge society”. Thus knowledge becomes the key issue in the years to come.

The institution of the university is playing a significant role in the processes of the emergence of the common European higher education and common European research spaces. What is clear, though, is that in neither of them, the university is seen in a traditional way we know from the debates preceding the advent of globalization, the speeding up of the process of the European integration and the passage from the industrial and service societies to the postindustrial, global, knowledge and information societies. The institution, in general, has already found it legitimate, useful and necessary to be evolving together with radical transformations of the social setting in which it functions. The new world we are approaching assumes different names in different formulations and the social, cultural, and economic processes in questions are debated in multiple vocabularies of social sciences: for some theorists, the processes of recent two decades or so are referred to as “postmodernity” (Jean-François Lyotard, Zygmunt Bauman), for others – as “the second modernity” (Ulrich Beck), “reflexive modernization” (Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, Scott Lash), “glocalization” (Roland Robertson) or “global age” (Malcolm Waters); still other descriptions include “network society” (Manuel Castells), “knowledge and information society” (Peter Drucker) or, on more philosophical grounds, the “postnational constellation” (Jürgen Habermas). For almost all of these analyses, globalization widely understood is of primary importance.

In this new global order, universities are striving for their new place as they are increasingly unable to maintain their traditional roles and tasks. Both the official discourses on the common European space in higher education and research as well as large part of the accompanying academic debates on the subject increasingly acknowledge that the current role of universities could be that of engines of economic growth of countries and regions, contributors to economic competitiveness of nations or suppliers of highly-qualified and well-trained workers for the new knowledge-driven economy – which is undoubtedly a radical reformulation of the traditional account of the role of the university in society. Without much discussions about principles (such as those accompanying the emergence of the Humboldtian model of the university in the beginning of the 19th century or such as the major 20th century debates about the “idea” of the university), the university in the European context seems to be about to enter willy-nilly a new era of its development.

From among a plethora of factors, some should be especially emphasized here: the globalization pressures on nation-states and its public services and the strengthening of the common European political and economic project at the turn of the 20th century; the end of the “Golden age” of the Keynesian welfare state (so positively inclined towards national public research and strong national public higher education systems) as we have known it in the almost three decades of the second half of the 20th century; and the emergence of knowledge-based societies (and economies) in the countries of the affluent West. In more general terms, the processes directly or indirectly affecting the institution of the university today would be the gradual individualization (and recommodification) of our societies, the denationalization (and desocialization) of our economies, as well as the universalization of higher education and the commodification of research. The recent European discourse under scrutiny here leaves no doubts about the direction of changes in roles and social and economic tasks of the institution in emergent new societies.

The presentation focuses on recent debates about common European higher education and research spaces. Their emergence will have far-reaching consequences for both EU-15 and the enlarged Europe. The ideas of both European spaces are evolving and are still not clearly defined. One thing is certain, though: we are confronting a major redesign of what research and teaching in European public sector are supposed to be, of how public higher education institutions, including universities, are supposed to function and be financed (at least from EU funds), and what roles students and faculty are increasingly pressed to assume in European higher education systems. At the moment, the European Higher Education Area is much more of a desired ideal to be achieved within the ongoing Bologna process, with very limited funding available for its implementation in particular countries; the ideal of the European Research Area (ERA), by contrast, has already determined the shape of the 6th Framework Programme of Research – the biggest source of EU research funds, totaling 17.5 billion EUR for 2002-2006 – and ways in which research activities in Europe are currently funded from EU sources. Thus while the effects of the ideal of the European Higher Education Area still remain largely at the level of governmental good wishes about the direction of changes of particular national higher education systems in the years to come, the effects of the ideal of the European Research Area are already visible at the practical level of where clusters of research funds are channeled and what new research-funding instruments are available. The European Research Area is at the same time an operational component of a comprehensive “Lisbon agenda” of the European Union agreed on in 2000 which aims at redefining both European economy, welfare and education systems by 2010. Over the last couple of years, the vocabularies used in the processes of the integration of higher education and of the integration of research in Europe have become increasingly similar; the visions of the future of our public universities – on the European level – have become more convergent than ever before; and the more or less tacit agreement on different speeds at which different parts of Europe will be changing their educational and research and development landscapes is becoming increasingly clear.