Education in Europe: 10 years of the ‘Bologna Process’

No reason to celebrate!
See also the leaflet of the SLP, CWI in Austria, in German and English

ON 11 March 2010, the ‘Bologna Summit’ will be held in Vienna and Budapest. There will be extensive ceremonies surrounding the conference with European Science and Education ministers gathering to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ‘Bologna process’.

The Bologna process, and the vicious attacks on public education which it encourages, is one of the triggers for the massive student protests we have seen in the last years.

In Vienna, and many other cities, preparations are being made for demonstrations and blockades to meet the summit.

But what is the basis for this anger amongst so many students around Europe?

The Bologna process was initiated in 1999 at a meeting of European Science ministers held in the city of Bologna. Back then, it was argued that this process would increase the mobility, international competitiveness, as well as ‘employability’ of European students. It was argued that a consensus on a European-wide higher education system should be established, based on the ideals of Bologna.

But in European universities the real intentions of Europe’s science ministers became clear; that students should adjust themselves to the ‘needs of the economy’ as best as possible. Instead of receiving a comprehensive social education, the goal was now to do as much rote learning as possible in the shortest possible time.

The implementation of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) forces students to submit to a permanent ‘evaluation’ of their efficiency. It is all about earning the required ECTS points in a specified time. Because the allowed time for collecting the ECTS points required is often so short, many students develop stress-related illnesses and are generally overworked.

Because of the tight study schedule, there is often no time for students to finance their studies with a side job. This primarily excludes children coming from poorer families from attending university. 46% of Austrian students live below poverty line.

Even the “improved mobility” promised for students, has not been realised. The pressure to finish university in the standard time, as well as tuition fees for long-term students, don’t allow for the ‘luxury’ of a semester abroad.

The implementation of the bachelor degree, which can be obtained in a relatively short time, enables employers to have access to a reserve of lower-paid university graduates. The master’s degree comes with enormous hurdles that again financially penalise the less wealthy.

The plan of the EU Commission to subsidise five European elite universities follows this trend, of providing only a few with comprehensive education and to merely adapt all other students to their tasks in the production process. Only very few highly qualified people are needed to maximise profit margins.

According to this logic, in times of crisis, enormous cutbacks to public services such as education must be made, while at the same time hundreds of insolvent companies swallow billions of taxpayers’ money.

With the Bologna process the EU is once again serving the interests of big business, contributing to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. For capitalism and big business, education must be as cheap as possible. Things that are not in line with the “eternal growth” doctrine, are simply not included in the curriculum.

The adoption of the Bologna process was a bureaucratic act, pushed through without democratic support in universities or among the public. The chaos that this process has meant for universities is still causing major disruption, even after ten years.

The bureaucratic apparatus now needed by universities and the associated costs were used as justification for the introduction of tuition fees, for example in Germany. All of this was decided without agreement from students and university staff.

Instead of letting those who are directly affected decide, the existing – already weak – decision making bodies were aligned even more with the interests of big business. On the universities’ council of Austria, currently one trade union representative sits next to 33 business representatives! Approximately 42% of the council members are bank and industry executives.

And all this against the background of massive attacks on what was won in the past by the student and workers movement.

The phenomenon of “generation internship” affects primarily young people with academic qualifications. Instead of getting a permanent position, they are merely sent from one unpaid work experience post to the next.

"Generation crisis"

The development of mass youth unemployment and the growth of insecure employment are leading to an increasing fear about the future among the younger generation.

CWI sections in a number of countries play a key role in attempting to organise students and young people in fighting against this situation.

In England and Wales, Socialist Party (CWI, England and Wales) and Socialist Students activists play a leading role in the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign – which aims to organise young people in fighting against mass unemployment, for real jobs, free education and a decent future.

In a number of countries, students and young people have given an example to the wider working class by taking militant action against the capitalist economic crisis.

The mass protest and occupation movements which have shaken Germany, Austria, Greece, Italy, Spain and France recently, show the way forward. In France, the courageous school students’ struggle managed to force the government and education minister Xavier Darkos to delay its planned attacks.

Thus, in recent years, the Bologna process and its consequences have led to the most powerful student protests in a long time. Lecture rooms were occupied, roads and train stations blocked, mass demonstrations carried out and much more. Unfortunately, there was a lack of a clear political programme of the movement and a linking up of the struggles internationally.

Along with the protests against the Bologna summit in Vienna and Budapest, there will also be a counter-summit in Vienna. The joint demonstrations and blockades against the “ten-year anniversary celebration” should be extensively built for by the protest movement. Trade union representatives and other political activists have been invited.

Vienna already saw a demonstration of over 50,000 participants under the slogan: “Money for education, not for banks and corporations”. This protest succeeded in uniting childcare workers and metal workers, who were taking industrial action at the time.

Linking the movement for free education with other struggles taking place in society and anti-capitalist demands, would give the movement a programme and allow for lasting success. For example, the Sozialistische LinksPartei (CWI, Austria) calls for €10 billion to be given for education and social services, which equals the sum spent by the Austrian government on bank bailouts.

What we fight for

  • Free education from kindergarten to university
  • Down with the Bologna Treaty, re-organise the universities under the democratic control of students, teachers, lecturers, and democratically elected representatives from wider society, including trade unions.
  • No to all education fees
  • The introduction of a living grant for all students
  • Guaranteed jobs, for all, after university or apprenticeship. Fight unemployment: reduce the hours of the working week, on full pay
  • End the profit-driven capitalist system and put in place a socialist alternative, where the economy and society are run democratically to meet the needs of all.

For a joint struggle of students, workers and unemployed throughout Europe and internationally. We won’t pay for the capitalist crisis – make the bosses pay!

For a joint day of action across Europe, bringing together the movements of the Greek general strikes, the students against the Bologna Treaty, the Tekel Turkish workers against privatisation, the Irish workers against attacks on the public sector, pensions and living standards – and many more!

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March 2010