Harmonization of the national system of higher education by means of the bologna process

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

Author: Sarsembayeva Gulnar, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

The reformation of higher education characterized by different stages and difficulties is far from its completion as current innovations wreck the old system and the transition to the new system sometimes results in lack of understanding and non-acceptance of the process by society.

All initiations and transformations happen under the influence of certain factors for the purpose of life’s improvement.

The Bologna Process is the process of harmonization of the European educational systems through the Bologna Declaration in order to create the European Higher Education Area.

The Bologna Process has two reasons:

1) For the last decade higher education has become a profitable business but in comparison with the American institutions the European ones have been at a disadvantage and incur losses;

2) The European Union is now being integrated into a single state. Common socio-economic and political structures are characterized by a unified educational system so as to provide the basis for a single labor market and for further integration of Europe.

First of all, the Bologna Process is based on the principles of voluntariness and requires nothing from its participants. Its main objective is transparence, comparability, clarity of modern educational systems and the possibility of easy transition from one system to another as nowadays different countries still have different educational systems. For instance, in most countries Medical education still preserves its traditional one-level structure though in several countries there are such qualifications as Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Dentistry, and Bachelor of Surgery. There is also difference in the apprenticeship. Bachelor’s degree implies 3 or 4 years of study, Master’s degree – 1 or 3. As it has already been stated, nowadays educational systems of different European countries are not similar. It is difficult to say if they become alike. At any rate, the documents of the Bologna Process emphasize the idea that national peculiarities of educational systems are an all-European wealth.

Main objectives of the Bologna Process are the following:

1. Introduction of the system of comparable degrees by means of adopting diploma transcripts to increase international competitiveness of the European system of education.

2. Introduction of two-cycle education: undergraduate and graduate. The former lasts not less than 3 years. The latter leads to obtaining Master’s degree or Doctor’s degree.

3. Introduction of the European system of credits (on the basis of ECTS - European Credit Transfer System). It also provides students with the right to choose courses he/she wants to study. The given accumulative system will work under the “life-long education” concept.

4. Development of students’ mobility (on the basis of two previous points). Development of faculty and staff mobility by transferring the period they work in the European region. Introduction of the transnational education standards.

5. Assistance to European collaboration in quality assurance for the purpose of comparable criteria and methodologies elaboration.

6. Introduction of education quality system in institutions of higher education with the participation of students and employers.

7. Assistance to European ideas of higher education, especially in developing curricula, inter-institutional cooperation, mobility schemes, joint educational programs, and in research activity.

The decision to participate in the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) was taken in Bologna by the representatives of 29 countries (Bologna Declaration, 1999). Nowadays it is considered to be a unique agreement as the Process now includes 47 countries-participants out of 49 countries ratified the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe (1954). The official date of the Bologna Process is considered June 19, 1999 – the date of Bologna Declaration signing. The Bologna Process is open for other countries.

Europe is now on the way to its unity. Higher education influences the formation of society in a considerable way therefore the diversity of educational systems impedes the unity of Europe. United Europe implies free transition of labor force, goods and capital thus resulting in the necessity of qualifications comparability. Finally, higher education is becoming a profitable business where the USA takes leading positions. Only united Europe may count on success in the sphere.

Main figures of the Bologna process are the following:

- Ministers of Education of the countries having signed the Bologna Declaration.

- Representatives of the EUA (European Universities Association), EURASHE (European Association of Institutions in Higher Education), ESU (European Students’ Union), ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education), and UNESCO-CEPES (the UNESCO European Center for Higher Education).

- The Bologna Process is also maintained by the European Commission and the Council of Europe.

The advantages of the Bologna Process includes the following: availability of higher education; further increasing of the European education quality; developing students’ and teachers’ mobility; successful employment of graduates as all academic degrees and qualifications are oriented to labor market.

Due to scientific and technological advance and market demands skills and knowledge that students get at the higher educational institutions are to be of high quality and enriched according to various changes in the world. Therefore, it is necessary to teach students how to enrich their skills and knowledge when required.

The last decade is characterized by a great number of initiatives in the transformation of higher education. Delicate steps turned out to a great number of reformation projects: from state educational standards to academic mobility.

The notion of state compulsory educational standard has not to be explained. The document is basic for Kazakhstani educational system but academic mobility is an innovation.

Academic mobility is the possibility for the students, teachers, and managerial personnel to “move” from one university to another to exchange the experience, to overcome national seclusion and to reach all-European perspectives. According to the recommendations of the Bologna Declaration it is advisable that each student spends a semester in another higher educational institution preferably abroad.

It is evident that a high level of academic mobility implies a developed infrastructure but it is not real. Even now in some countries academic mobility is rather limited. It is difficult to say about the number of students studied at European and other foreign higher educational institutions. Financial question is of great importance too. The given problem is of great importance for higher educational institutions and Education Administration bodies. In the Western Europe students’ mobility is also low (5-10%). Several countries succeeded more in the given sphere. For instance, in Finland 30% of students take part in the programs of academic mobility (it is planned to increase up to 50-60%).

Russia joined the Bologna Process at the meeting of Ministers of Education of European countries in Berlin in September, 2003. In 2005 the Minister of Education of Ukraine signed the Bologna Declaration in Bergen.

Kazakhstan joined the Bologna Process in Budapest in 2010. The decision of Kazakhstan to join the Bologna Process was unanimously supported by the representatives of 46 countries-signers of the Bologna Declaration. Thus, Kazakhstan became the 47th country-participant of the Bologna Process. The flag of Kazakhstan was established in the Gallery of the Flags of the Countries-Participants of the Bologna Process. Before this, 30 out of 145 Kazakhstan’s higher educational institutions had already signed the Magna Charta Universitatum which is the basis of the Bologna Declaration. The decision of joining the Bologna Process was taken by the Committee of the Ministers of Education of the countries-participants of the Bologna Process thus showing high appraisal to the educational reforms in the sphere of higher education in the republic of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan is the first Central-Asian state admitted as a full member of the European Higher Education Area. Along with the signing of the Bologna Declaration the country is to fulfill the key terms:

- to introduce a three-stage educational system (Bachelor’s degree – Master’s degree – Doctoral Degree (PhD)

- to assure the accreditation of educational institutions

- to introduce an educational technology similar to ECTS - European Credit Transfer System

Kazakhstan has met all requirements for joining the Bologna Process. The Education Act of Kazakhstan stipulates the transition to a three-stage education, high students’ mobility, and a credit system. Together with foreign universities and institutions Kazakhstan train students on Ph.D. program and introduces a new mechanism of quality assurance by means of creation of the system of institutional and specialized accreditation according the international model. Several higher educational institutions have already obtained institutional and specialized accreditation.

In Kazakhstan higher educational institutions set the task to increase the quality of education and range the following criteria in accordance with their priorities:

1. Faculty quality

2. Faculty motivation

3. Material and technical resources

4. Curricula quality

5. Knowledge quality

6. Students’ quality

7. Infrastructure quality

8. Innovative activity of the managerial staff

9. Introduction of innovations

10. Competitiveness and achievements of the graduates

Joining the Bologna Process gives real advantages to Kazakhstan’s higher educational institutions and students. They are the following: bringing of Kazakhstan’s educational programs and curricula to conformity with the European standards; recognition of Kazakhstan’s qualifications and academic degrees; academic mobility assurance both for students and teachers; recognition of Kazakhstan’s credits in foreign universities;  realization of the programs of two-diploma education; convertibility of Kazakhstan’s diplomas of higher education in Euro-zone; the  right of graduates to work in any country-participant of the Bologna Process.

Nowadays Kazakhstan is entering the world educational area. 18 higher educational institutions have signed the Magna Charta Universitatum. A number of international seminars on the problems of Kazakhstan’s joining the Bologna Process have been held. This can be explained by the necessity to reform the educational system of Kazakhstan because of Kazakhstan’s integration in ITO and joining the Bologna Process.

Besides the advantages the given process has its own disadvantages. Joining the Bologna Process has resulted in the confusion of curricula and has caused certain employment problems for graduates with Bachelor’s degree. A four-year Bachelor program is considered as not completed higher education.

It is impossible to avoid certain difficulties when transforming the system of higher education. Society is to accept this new system. Employment problems are being solved very slowly. The transition to the module system is complicated as it contradicts the standard of Kazakhstan. All standards are to be changed consistently including the standards for secondary education.

Nowadays a number of universities in Kazakhstan train students on Ph.D. program and Doctor’s program (on various specializations). Ph.D. program is conducted at foreign universities or with the help of guest professors as scientific supervisors or instructors. Some higher educational institutions provide two-diploma Master’s and Doctor’s programs (students get a diploma of a Kazakhstan university and a diploma of a foreign university).

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of unsolved questions. How to combine Ph.D. programs and Doctor’s programs with the development of fundamental and applied science in the country? How to motivate doctoral students and their scientific advisors to generate new knowledge but not just write their Doctor’s thesis?  There are also some problems with scientific journals of high impact-factor where doctoral students must publish their research results. The credit system adopted in Kazakhstan is to be replaced by the ECTS. Diploma transcripts are to be similar to European transcripts (DS). Education quality administration is also to meet the European requirements. All these changes must be legislated.

In Kazakhstan higher educational institutions are told how many graduates and on what specialities to train. Other leading European countries managed to adjust their non-traditional qualifications to the basic model thus becoming the part of the Bologna Process. For instance, in Germany there is a degree similar to Russian Doctor of Sciences which implies a four-stage system of education. French system also has four stages and Scotland system of education – 6. It also should be mentioned that some elitist European higher educational institutions tactfully refuse to take part in the Bologna Process. Leading Moscow universities also do not hurry to join it.

The Lisbon Convention gives the signers the right for reservations and partial entering the Process to help the countries-participants save their own educational traditions adapting them to the new system.  

Nowadays the Bologna Process is one of the most disputable questions in the sphere of higher education in Kazakhstan. Traditionally higher education was highly appreciated in the society. Under the current diversity of political, economic views, and the evaluation of the country’s development priority the importance of educational system development is not doubtful.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

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