The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

The Bologna Process: An Overview

As with many of the EU’s policies, such as trade, labour markets and agriculture, the underlying aim of the Bologna Process (or Bologna Accords) is to harmonise and simplify provision across Member States in a designated area of activity, in this case higher education. In essence, the desire is to create the European Higher Education Area, although unlike other aspects of EU policy it does draw in countries beyond the Member States (see At present there are 47 countries involved and these are:

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova , Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom

The Bologna Declaration has several objectives, namely:

“Adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees, also through the implementation of the Diploma Supplement, in order to promote European citizens’ employability and the international competitiveness of the European higher education system.

Adoption of a system essentially based on two main cycles, undergraduate and graduate. Access to the second cycle shall require successful completion of first cycle studies, lasting a minimum of three years. The degree awarded after the first cycle shall also be relevant to the European labour market as an appropriate level of qualification. The second cycle should lead to the master and/or doctorate degree as in many European countries.

Establishment of a system of credits[1] - such as in the ECTS system – as a proper means of promoting the most widespread student mobility. Credits could also be acquired in non-higher education contexts, including lifelong learning, provided they are recognised by receiving Universities concerned.

Promotion of mobility by overcoming obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement with particular attention to:

  • for students, access to study and training opportunities and to related services
  • for teachers, researchers and administrative staff, recognition and valorisation of periods spent in a European context researching, teaching and training, without prejudicing their statutory rights.

Promotion of European co-operation in quality assurance with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies.

Promotion of the necessary European dimensions in higher education, particularly with regards to curricular development, interinstitutional co-operation, mobility schemes and integrated programmes of study, training and research.”

(Bologna Declaration, 19th June 1999 p3-4)

The overall aim was to harmonise academic degree and quality assurance standards as driven by the Lisbon Recognition Convention. In so doing, movement between countries by students becomes easier, the EU becomes a more attractive destination to come and study to those from outside the EU including a greater parity of systems with the US and finally a strengthening of the knowledge and research base to ensure continuing stability within the region. This last point also helps explain the inclusion of non-EU members in the process.

History of the Process

Building on an initial agreement between France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, the Bologna Declaration was signed by 30 countries in 1999 and paved the way for beginning the process of harmonising higher education in Europe. Since that stage, there have been five iterations that have both deepened and widened the process as more countries have been drawn in and sought to be part of the Process.

Prague 2001

The number of signatory countries rose to 33 and the main thrust of the outcomes of this meeting was to create an equal status for students in the process of creating the EHEA as well as stressing the social aspects of the Process too. Ultimately the focus on improving the competitiveness of the EU’s higher education sector was central to all the discussions.

Berlin 2003

With 40 countries now taking part, the Berlin Ministerial Conference highlighted the role of research in the EHEA and the fact that this was entirely consistent with the aims of the European Research Area, both of which will help to strengthen the competitiveness of the EU. In addition, the third cycle (doctoral) of studies, was now drawn into the discussions.

Bergen 2005

Focussing more on how the policies could be implemented, the Bergen Communiqué sought to gain agreement on and a commitment to elaborating national qualifications frameworks by 2010. Alongside this was recognition that plans needed to be drawn up for the post-2010 world of the EHEA too while ensuring that the EHEA continued to offer strong social mobility.

London 2007

Membership expanded to 46 at the London Conference and here the emphasis was on taking stock of what had been achieved so far and the extent to which future developments could be placed within a global context of higher education provision.

Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve 2009

With the original planned date of 2010 rapidly approaching, this Ministerial Conference sought to focus on deepening the implementation in a number of areas including: lifelong learning, employability, social dimensions, student centred learning, international openness and mobility of students , research, funding of the HE and multidimensional transparency tools.

Budapest-Vienna 2010

Viewed as the anniversary conference it was here that the EHEA was officially launched as completed and thus the main objective of the Bologna Declaration had been achieved. However, other goals are still to be met and thus the aim of this meeting was to consolidate and widen the impact of the EHEA and this was reflected in there now being 47 signatory countries.


[1] European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a standard for comparing the study attainment across the EU and other European countries. ECTS are only awarded if study is successful and one academic year equates to 60 ECTS-credits (around 1500-1800 hours of study). They are used to facilitate transfer and progression of students.