From Bologna 1999 to Eutopia 2019

The twentieth anniversary of the Bologna declaration. Photo: Marie Lowrie

At a conference in Bologna this week, I participated in the 20th anniversary of the Bologna process with 170 Vice-Chancellors from 80 countries, and a number of other delegates.

Nowadays, many students or teachers don’t know that much about what occurred in 1999, when the EU ratified the Bologna declaration. The turn of the millennium was about to happen, and we had hopes (and perhaps some fears) that the approaching digitalisation would make us connected in a way we had never seen before: mobile phones, computers, the world wide web, internet banks – all seemed possible.

We may not think it’s all that extraordinary today, but in 1999, the idea of an open university system, where students could study outside their own university without having to worry that their education would not be recognised when they returned home, was not a certainty. In fact, it isn’t even so today. But in 1999, the first EU decision on shared rules and regulations was made. Sweden had some adjustments to do, but in 2007 we changed the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees systems, and we joined the Bologna process.

In 2019, the Bologna declaration celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the Bologna system is facing a new chapter. The conference began with a ceremonial academic procession in the Vice-Chancellor’s gown (in a 35°C temperature) from Arciginnasio, the original University building, to Palazzo Re Enzo, at the Piazza Maggiore. The University of Bologna’s Vice-Chancellor Francesco Ubertini, reminded us about the student’s important role in the education system. The first Vice-Chancellors at the University of Bologna—the world’s first university—were students who were appointed by the students themselves.

At the conference, we stated that it was time to take the next step towards a more inclusive and sustainable Bologna system. The system needs to open up to a society that is digitalised, takes on the global challenges, and focus on a student-centred learning. Some of the students pointed out that: “Don’t teach where we are, teach where we will be.”

We also discussed how employability not only can be seen as the achievement of specific learning goals, but also needs to be seen as social competence, innovative thinking, ability to realise projects, language competence, and so on. A lot of common interests are included in life-long learning.

Agneta Bladh, the Government’s investigator of the internationalisation report that was completed this year, pointed out the importance of looking at the Commission’s effort on Erasmus+ and the European Universities Networks (EUN) as an expansion of the Bologna process. This involves a broader collaboration, which affects both students and employees, development of different curricula, innovation, an inclusive attitude towards the society around us, and an effort on Agenda 2030.

It seems suitable now to mention that the University of Gothenburg scooped one of the EUN projects as a member of the alliance Eutopia, the day after the Bologna process. Congratulations to all of us. We now have the opportunity to work long term for a more inclusive collaboration in education.

The Chair of the European Student’s Union, Adam Gajeks, had a interesting conclusion in Bologna: “Higher education is a Human Right.” Let’s see how we handle his, and other important ideas, in the Bologna system the upcoming 20 years.

Today, Almedalen week has started. This means interesting seminars, new knowledge, and, hopefully, many rewarding meetings for me and the many University employees that are participating.