Module 6.Studying in the European Higher Education Area.

Part 1: The instititutiona settings.

1. Introduction: The march towards the EHEA

What nowadays is labelled as European Higher Education Area (EHEA), that is a common space where students and academics are mobile, academic degrees are mutually recognized both by higher education institutions and the labour market. This process is not that recent as one may think. From the late 1990’s the process was accelerated by the so-called Bologna Process (1999), which aimed at promoting convergence in higher education in 46 participant European.
Nevertheless, the main initiatives which are considered to be the background of the Bologna Process are worth mentioned.
The first initiative promoting European dimension in university dates back the 70’s, when the Joint Study Programs were launched. These programs were an organizational umbrella under which individual departments set agreements for students’ exchange.
In the mid 1980’s a new and broader program for student exchange and mobility was launched: the Erasmus Programme. This programme was a major breakthrough for the construction of a European higher education space for teaching and learning, as it became a regular element of students’ learning experience and also a constant in European higher education study offer. In addition, this programme set the foundation of mutual recognition of subjects and study courses among participant institutions. Within this new reality, the need for mutual standards of certifications, qualifications and accreditation challenged both national systems and institutions.
During about a decade, this programme was viewed as the fundamental framework for the promotion and the achievement to the European dimension in higher education. Nevertheless, some aspects were considered an obstacle in this new framework:

  1. The European dimension was restricted to the Western European countries, that is to say those integrating the European Community (later European Union);
  2. The programme was largely implemented by individual institutions and/or by their didactic articulations. This means that the programme functioned on a voluntary basis, carried out autonomously and based on mutual agreements among institutions;
  3. As a consequence of the latter point, it has not a wide and deep effect on national higher education systems, curricular structures and institutions.


May 25th 1998 represents a step change in the construction of the EHEA. The ministries of education of France, Germany, Italy and UK met at the Sorbonne University and signed an agreement (Sorbonne’s Declaration) for the creation of the European Area of Higher Education as a key way to promote citizens' mobility and employability. At the same time, the need for mutual recognition of qualifications and degrees was highlighted.
One year later, on June 19th, 29 European ministries of education met at Bologna University and signed the Bologna Declaration, launching the Bologna Process.

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