Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu

The Bologna Process

What is the Bologna Process?

The Bologna Process was launched in June 1999 when ministers from 29 European countries agreed to create a European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which was instituted in 2010. The creation of the EHEA allows students to choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. The 10 “action lines” for the Bologna Process are:

  1. Adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees
  2. Adoption of a system essentially based on two cycles (undergraduate and postgraduate)
  3. Establishment of a system of credits
  4. Promotion of mobility
  5. Promotion of European co-operation in quality assurance
  6. Promotion of the European dimension in higher education
  7. Focus on lifelong learning
  8. Inclusion of higher education institutions and students
  9. Promotion of the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area
  10. Doctoral studies and the synergy between the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area

Since 1999 there have been eight ministerial meetings to assess progress and there are now 46 signatory countries.  The UK hosted the 2007 ministerial summit in London.

The Europe Unit’s Guide to the Bologna Process can be found on their website here.

A report by the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee on the Bologna Process can be found on the Parliament website here.

The communiqué from the 2007 London ministerial summit can be found here.

Bologna Process – Issues for the UK

The Europe Unit Guide to the Bologna Process contains useful summaries of the UK’s position on the following issues arising from the Bologna Process:


Cardiff’s approach to the Bologna Process

ASQC adopted, as one of its strategic priorities for Session 2005-06 (and subsequently Session 2006-07), the aim of developing an institutional Bologna Strategy, ‘to include clarification of opportunities for Cardiff University to engage with issues arising from the Bologna Process and identifying what can appropriately be done at institutional level and what should be pursued at Sector level (Wales and UK)

Issues for Cardiff

ASQC has identified that major issues for Cardiff arising out of the Bologna process include the following:


Integrated Masters Programmes

The compatibility of four-year integrated Masters degrees (e.g. MEng, MChem) with the Bologna process has been questioned as they do not fall into the typical credit ranges specified in the Framework for Qualifications of the EHEA.  This framework states that the first (Batchelor) cycle should typically consist of 180-240 ECTS whilst the second (Masters) cycle should typically consist of 90-120 ECTS.

Various professional bodies have begun to consider revising programmes to fit the EHEA Qualifications Framework due to concerns over how graduates will be perceived by European employers.

The Europe Unit has produced a “Europe Note” which examines the issues surrounding the compatibility of integrated Masters programmes.  It is available here.


European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)

The European Credit Transfer System was initially developed by the European Commission to support recognition of the Socrates-Erasmus (now called Erasmus under the new Lifelong Learning programme) exchange programmes and the Berlin Summit of 2003 identified that ECTS should be used as a credit accumulation and transfer system across Europe.  However, as the Europe Unit note in the “Guide to the Bologna Process”, there “is a lack of consensus in Europe on whether ECTS provides adequate information for use as an accumulation system and on how to allocate credit to periods of study.”

There are concerns that ECTS is too prescriptive and focused on workload rather than on learning outcomes.  Indeed, lobbying is currently taking place to persuade the Commission to accept the idea of credits based on learning outcomes rather than length of study.

Further information on ECTS is currently available on the Commission’s website here.

At present Cardiff University does not award ECTS.  However, there is a notional equivalence of one ECTS credit to two credits awarded under the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW).


Diploma Supplement

The Diploma Supplement is a document issued to students upon graduation which describes the qualification they have received, the content of that qualification and the structure of the HE system in the country in which it was issued.  The 2003 Berlin ministerial summit called for “every student graduating as from 2005 to receive the Diploma Supplement automatically and free of charge”.

The Europe Unit has produced a “Europe Unit” giving further information on the Diploma Supplement which can be found here.


Tuning Project

The Tuning Project aims to identify points of convergence for generic and subject-specific competences of both first cycle and second cycle degrees.  This addresses several of the Bologna “action lines” including the adoption of a system of comparable degrees.

According to the European Commission, the project has been called the “Tuning Project” to “reflect the idea that universities do not look for harmonisation of their degree programmes or any sort of unified, prescriptive or definitive European curricula but simply for points of reference, convergence and common understanding. The protection of the rich diversity of European education has been paramount in the Tuning project from the very start and the project in no way seeks to restrict the independence of academic and subject specialists, or damage local and national academic authority.”

Further information can be found on the Commission’s website here.

At least one member of Cardiff University’s academic staff has been involved in the Tuning Project.


Erasmus Mundus

Erasmus Mundus is a scheme run by the European Commission, initially for the period 2004-2008, which supports specifically-labelled European Masters programmes which aim to improve the quality of higher education in Europe and also to improve the attractiveness of higher education in Europe to students from so-called third countries (non-EU countries).

Erasmus Mundus programmes must be run by a consortium of at least three universities in at least three member countries and students must study in at least two of those countries.  Students from third countries are offered scholarships to study on Erasmus Mundus courses.

The four Erasmus Mundus action lines are:

Action 1 – Erasmus Mundus Masters Courses: high-quality integrated Masters Courses offered by a consortium of at least three universities in at least three different European countries.

Action 2 – Erasmus Mundus scholarships: a scheme to encourage third-country graduate students and scholars to study on an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Course.

Action 3 – Partnerships: Erasmus Mundus Masters Courses will also have the possibility of establishing partnerships with third-country higher education institutions.

Action 4 – Enhancing attractiveness: measures aimed to enhance the profile and attractiveness of European higher education.

Erasmus Mundus is initially running from 2004-2008 (the deadline for the final call for proposals was 30 April 2007) and the Commission is yet to announce if there will be a successor programme although it is likely that it will be contained within the new Lifelong Learning programme.

Further information on Erasmus Mundus programme can be found here.

A full list of all approved Erasmus Mundus programmes can be found here.

The European Commission has now adopted a proposal for an Erasmus Mundus II scheme for the period 2009-2013.  The proposal is still to be negotiated with the Council and European Parliament but looks to be similar to the original Erasmus Mundus scheme but with slightly altered action lines.

More information on Erasmus Mundus II can be found here.


Sources of Further Advice

The European Universities Association

“The European University Association (EUA) represents and supports higher education institutions in 46 countries, providing them with a unique forum to cooperate and keep abreast of the latest trends in higher education and research policies.  Members of the Association are European universities involved in teaching and research, national associations of rectors and other organisations active in higher education and research.”


The Europe Unit

“The Europe Unit is a sector-wide body which aims to raise awareness of the European issues affecting UK higher education and to coordinate the UK’s involvement in European initiatives and debates. Launched in January 2004, the Unit seeks to strengthen the position of the UK higher education sector in debates on the Bologna Process and EU policy.”

Provides information on a wide range of European HE issues and also produces a monthly newsletter giving recent updates.


Welsh Higher Education Brussels (WHEB)

“Welsh Higher Education Brussels (WHEB) has been established to:


The European Commission – Bologna Process


The European Commission – Education and Training

The Commission’s website gives information on the supported programmes and also on the policy areas in which the Commission is concerned.


The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)

The QAA website has information on joint degrees and on the work undertaken to verify the compatibility of the Scottish qualifications framework with that of the European Higher Education Area.


The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA)

“ENQA (the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education) disseminates information, experiences and good practices in the field of quality assurance (QA) in higher education to European QA agencies, public authorities and higher education institutions.”

ENQA has been working on proposals to establish a register of national Quality Assurance Agencies.  The QAA is a full member of ENQA.


UK Research Office (UKRO)

“The UK Research Office (UKRO) is the UK’s leading information and advice service on European Union funding for research and higher education. Established in Brussels in 1984, UKRO is jointly funded by the all eight UK Research Councils and receives subscriptions from over 150 research organisations, principally in the UK.

UKRO’s mission is to promote effective UK participation in EU-funded research programmes, higher education programmes, and other related activities by:


JISC infoNet – Building Capacity: Preparing for Bologna

A project funded under the HEFCE Leadership, Governance and Management Fund which aims to provide an “applied infokit” to help institutions prepare for the implementation of the Bologna Process.