The Bologna process: setting up the European Higher Education Area

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The Bologna process: setting up the European Higher Education Area

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The Bologna process: setting up the European Higher Education Area

inter alia, to help diverse higher education systems converge towards more transparent systems, based on three cycles: Degree/Bachelor – Master – Doctorate.

Document or Iniciative

The Bologna Declarationof 19 June 1999 – Joint declaration of the European Ministers of Education [Not published in the Official Journal].


The Bologna Declaration initiated the Bologna process. This process is designed to introduce a system of academic degrees that are easily recognisable and comparable, promote the mobility of students, teachers and researchers, ensure high quality teaching and incorporate the European dimension into higher education.

Making academic degrees comparable and promoting mobility

The Bologna Declaration involves six actions relating to:

  • a system of academic degrees that are easy to recognise and compare. It includes the introduction of a shared diploma supplement to improve transparency;
  • a system based essentially on two cycles: a first cycle geared to the labour market and lasting at least three years, and a second cycle (Master) conditional on the completion of the first cycle;
  • a system of accumulation and transfer of credits of the ECTS type used in the Erasmus exchange scheme;
  • mobility of students, teachers and researchers: elimination of all obstacles to freedom of movement;
  • cooperation with regard to quality assurance;
  • the European dimension in higher education: increase the number of modules and teaching and study areas where the content, guidance or organisation has a European dimension.

Reform of higher education systems in Europe

The Bologna Declaration is a voluntary undertaking by each signatory country to reform its own education system; this reform is not imposed on the national governments or universities. As for Member States of the European Union (EU), Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states that the Union “shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action”.

Nevertheless, Member States remain fully responsible for the content of teaching and the organisation of their education systems as well as their cultural and linguistic diversity. Union action is aimed at:

  • developing the European dimension in education, particularly through the teaching and dissemination of the languages of Member States;
  • encouraging mobility of students and teachers, by encouraging inter alia, the academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study;
  • promoting cooperation between educational establishments;
  • exchanges of information and experience on issues common to the education systems of Member States.

Prague Communiquéof 19 May 2001 – Towards the European Higher Education Area

The Prague Communiqué added the following actions to the Bologna process:

  • lifelong learning, an essential element of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), to increase economic competitiveness;
  • the involvement of higher education institutions and students; the ministers underline the importance of involving universities, other higher education establishments and students to create a constructive EHEA;
  • promote the attractiveness of the EHEA among students in Europe and in other parts of the world.

Berlin Communiquéof 19 September 2003 – “Realising the European Higher Education Area”

At the 2003 Berlin conference, the ministers responsible for higher education adopted a communiqué that included doctorate studies and synergies between the EHEA and the European Research Area (ERA) in the Bologna process. They underlined the importance of research, research training and the promotion of interdisciplinary research to maintain and improve the quality of higher education and strengthen its competitiveness. They called for increased mobility at doctorate and post-doctorate level and encouraged the institutions in question to enhance their cooperation in the spheres of doctorate studies and training of young researchers.

Bergen Communiquéof 19-20 May 2005 – The European Higher Education Area – Achieving the Goals

The Bergen Communiqué noted that significant progress had been made concerning the objectives of the Bologna process. By 2007, the ministers would like to have made progress in the following areas:

  • implementing references and guidelines to guarantee quality, as proposed in the ENQA report (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education);
  • introducing national qualification frameworks;
  • awarding and recognising joint degrees, including at doctorate level;
  • creating opportunities for flexible pathways for training in higher education, including the existence of provisions for the validation of experience.

London Communiquéof 18 May 2007 – Towards the European Higher Education Area: responding to challenges in a globalised world

The period between 2005 and 2007 saw good overall progress towards the EHEA. Nevertheless, many challenges still remain. Focus should now be on:

  • promoting the mobility of students and staff, as well as developing measures for evaluating this mobility;
  • evaluating the effectiveness of national strategies on the social dimension in education;
  • developing indicators and data for measuring progress regarding mobility and the social dimension;
  • examining ways to improve employability linked to the three-cycle degree system and lifelong learning;
  • improving the dissemination of information about the EHEA and its recognition throughout the world;
  • continuing to take stock of progress towards the EHEA and developing the qualitative analysis in this stocktaking.

Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiquéof 28-29 April 2009 – The Bologna Process 2020 – The European Higher Education Area in the new decade

This communiqué noted that progress has been achieved on the Bologna process and that the EHEA has been well developed since the Bologna Declaration of 1999. However, certain targets needed to still be realised in full and properly applied at European, national and institutional levels. Consequently, the communiqué noted that the Bologna process will continue beyond 2010 with the following priorities having been set for the new decade:

  • providing equal opportunities to quality education – participation in higher education should be widened; in particular, students from underrepresented groups should be given the necessary conditions to participate;
  • increasing participation in lifelong learning – the accessibility and quality of, as well as transparency of information on, lifelong learning must be ensured. The related policies should be implemented together with national qualifications frameworks and through strong partnerships between all stakeholders;
  • promoting employability – stakeholders should cooperate to raise initial qualifications and renew a skilled workforce, as well as to improve the provision, accessibility and quality of guidance on careers and employment. In addition, work placements included in study programmes and on-the-job learning should be further encouraged;
  • developing student-centred learning outcomes and teaching missions – this should include the development of international reference points for different subject areas and enhancing of the teaching quality of study programmes;
  • intertwining education, research and innovation – the acquisition of research competences should be increased, research should be better integrated within doctoral programmes and the career development of early stage researchers should be made more attractive;
  • opening higher education institutions to the international fora – European institutions should further internationalise their activities and collaborate at the global stage;
  • increasing opportunities for and quality of mobility – by 2020, 20% of graduates should have spent a study or training period abroad;
  • improving data collection – data should be collected in order to monitor and evaluate progress made on the objectives of the Bologna process;
  • developing multidimensional transparency tools – to acquire detailed information about higher education institutions and their programmes, transparency tools should be developed together with key stakeholders. These tools should be based on comparable data and proper indicators, as well as take on board the quality assurance and recognition principles of the Bologna process;
  • guaranteeing funding – new and diverse funding solutions should be found to complement public funding.

Budapest-Vienna Declarationof 12 March 2010 on the European Higher Education Area

This declaration marked the end of the first decade of the Bologna Process and officially launched the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), as envisaged in the Bologna Declaration of 1999. With this declaration, the ministers:

  • welcomed Kazakhstan as the 47th participating country of the European Higher Education Area;
  • underlined the specific nature of the Bologna Process, i.e. a unique partnership between public authorities, higher education institutions, students and staff, together with employers, quality assurance agencies, international organisations and European institutions;
  • stressed that the Bologna Process and the resulting European Higher Education Area, being unprecedented examples of regional, cross-border cooperation in higher education, had raised considerable interest in other parts of the world and made European higher education more visible on the global map. The ministers also declared to look forward to intensifying their policy dialogue and cooperation with partners across the world;
  • acknowledged the findings of various reports, which indicate that some of the Bologna action lines had been implemented to varying degrees and that recent protests in some countries showed the Bologna aims and reforms had not been properly implemented and explained. The ministers promised to listen to the critical voices raised among staff and students;
  • reiterated their commitment to the full and proper implementation of the agreed objectives and the agenda for the next decade set by the Leuven/ Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué.

Moreover, the ministers highlighted the following issues:

  • academic freedom as well as autonomy and accountability of higher education institutions as principles of the European Higher Education Area;
  • the key role of the academic community – institutional leaders, teachers, researchers, administrative staff and students – in making the European Higher Education Area a reality;
  • higher education as a public responsibility, i.e. higher education institutions should be given the necessary resources within a framework established and overseen by public authorities;
  • the need for increased efforts on the social dimension in order to provide equal opportunities to quality education, paying particular attention to underrepresented groups.

The ministers responsible for higher education agreed to meet again in Bucharest on 26-27 April 2012.


On 18 September 1988, to mark the 900 years since the founding of the University of Bologna, the university rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum . They considered that “at the approaching end of this millennium the future of mankind depends largely on cultural, scientific and technical development”. Universities shape this knowledge.

To celebrate the 800 years of the University of Paris, the ministers responsible for higher education in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom adopted the Sorbonne Declaration on 25 May 1998. This declaration aimed to harmonise the architecture of the European higher education system. The ministers stressed that “the Europe we are building is not only that of the euro, the banks and the economy, it must be a Europe of knowledge as well”.

The Bologna Declaration of 19 June 1999 has been signed by 30 European countries, including the then 15 Member States of the EU (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom) as well as the 10 countries that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia). Iceland, Norway and the Swiss Confederation are also signatories to the declaration, as are Bulgaria and Romania, who became members of the EU on 1 January 2007. Kazakhstan joined the Bologna process in March 2010.

Today, 47 countries participate in the Bologna process after having fulfilled the accession conditions and procedures . The countries subscribing to the European Cultural Convention, signed on 19 December 1954 under the aegis of the Council of Europe, are eligible for membership of the EHEA, provided that they declare their intention to incorporate the objectives of the Bologna process into their own higher education system. Their membership applications must include information on the way in which they will implement the principles and objectives.

The Bologna process is in line with the objectives of Education and Training 2020 and Europe 2020.

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