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Saturday, 06 May 2006

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Richard Edelstein

The Bologna Agreement has initiated a great deal of reflection about higher education in Europe and will overtime have impact. The impact is, however, uncertain in its nature. Why is this the case? First, The Bologna Agreement is a "from the top down" initiative. It was the brainchild of Ministers of Education in a few countries and was undertaken with little if any consultation or negotiation with those most impacted by the program. It was a political initiative driven by multiple objectives, some stated, some unstated. As Professor Iniguez points out, there are funding issues that are fundamental to it's success but remain unaddressed. Beyond funding, there is an issue of whether there exists a European market for degree education. The current reality strongly suggests that education markets remain national in nature with consensus that student and faculty exchange or mobility is a useful addition to the curriculum. A critical reason education markets remain national is that labor markets are still overwhelmingly national with only small numbers of graduates working outside their home country. Most students prefer to get their degree at home. Finally, any attempt to introduce "market forces" into the education sector will meet with much resistance from two forces. First, education is a domain where national culture and identity is promulgated and insured for future generations. This means that unlike commerce and industry where the market is primarily for goods and services, it is more difficult for a nation to deregulate or relinquish control to supra-national forces its institutions of higher learning. There is nothing more political and debated than the European Union's struggle to find the right balance between seeking convergence of economic structures while at the same time allowing for significant autonomy at the national level in areas related to culture, language and historical tradition. Education is largely thought of as a "public good" rather than a private good. Like it or not, too much "privatization" or introduction of differential fee structures is likely to have strong resistance from students and parents whether it is in Spain or Sweden.

Bologna has engendered significant debate because universities and education systems are very complex in nature, closely associated with national identity and not easily amenable to "top-down" management and necessarily rather resistant to change.

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