Why did the Belarusan Ministry of Education ignore the Bologna conference in Bucharest? It is as soon as in January that the issue of admission to the European Higher Education Area will be resolved.
In late November the capital of Romania hosted Bologna conference, gathering together researchers of Bologna process on the threshold of the summit of Ministers of Education from the EU countries, which is to take place in Yerevan in 2015.
170 delegates from 30 countries discussed the future of the higher education in Europe. Despite the fact that it is as soon as in January that the question of Belarus’ admission to the European Higher Education Area will be resolved, nobody from the Ministry of Education went to the conference.
However, it didn’t prevent Uladzimir Dunaeu, professor of philosophy, a former Vice Rector of the EHU, the member of the public Bologna committee from attending this serious event privately and discussing the Belarusian issue with European academics.
- Why is the Bologna conference so important for the European countries?
- The Bologna conference in Bucharest lasted for three days, from November 24 to November 26. It is very important because it to a large degree defines the development strategy of the European Higher Education Area for some period of time. It has gathered academics, representatives of universities and research centres, as well as European bureaucrats from the European University Association, European Students Union, and the Council of Europe.
At the conference disturbing conclusion about the challenges that the higher education in the European countries is facing was drawn: unevenness of its development in different parts of Europe, noticeable lag in the Eastern and Southern Europe, new Europe in comparison with the old one due to noticeable difference in funding.
It becomes an increasingly obvious hindrance for the development of the higher education in the new Europe; too little money is spent on education, and the general economic crisis also leaves its consequences.
But to a large degree this is also a consequence of the education policy, which doesn’t take into account the importance of the higher education for the development of the region.
At the same time the most important conclusion made at the conference is that the Bologna process (which is now called the European Higher Education Area) is, in general, the only successful pan-European project.
The European Higher Education Area has been formed ant is developing not as dynamically as it was planned. A lot of fears are related to the fact that politicians are underestimating the importance of universities in building the society and the economy based on knowledge. Basically, the Lisbon Strategy that was to make Europe the most successful economy based on knowledge is now working poorly. I.e. there are numerous reasons to worry and they are diverse, but at the same time there is a felling that the process is still going and is more successful that the other pan-European projects.
Of course, we have somewhat adapted to the results of the project, though we wanted to see more than that. But if we think as realists, we should note that Europe that is so concerned with its problems is still making progress. However, there are regions that are particularly concerning for the region, including Belarus that wants to join the European Higher Education Area.
- What were you aimed at when visiting Bucharest?
- It was too late to apply for making a speech, though I tried to actively participate in the discussions. Besides, I discussed Belarus’ perspectives with many people who play some role in the development of the European education. For many of them Belarus is a sheer mystery.
On November 27-28 the first session of the working group of Bologna process took place. The working group started the consideration of Belarus’ application about the entrance into the Bologna process. Belarus might have thought that it were these days that he decision about the admission was to be made.
But in reality, it was only the start of the procedure. It is forecasted that the decision at the level of the working group will only be made in January, and the suggestions it will make will become facts for the Summit of Ministers.
Being aware of it, at the conference in Bucharest we hurried to present a brief variant of the alternative report – Memorandum – and distributed among the members of the working group.
In this Memorandum we presented our vision of the degree to which Belarus has taken into account complaints formulated in the answer of the Minister of Education from the Secretariat of the Bologna process in 2013.
We sent this document officially on behalf of the Belarusan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.
- Did anyone present the official Minsk at the Bologna conference on the eve of the decisive for our education system moment?
- I was the only one who represented Belarus.
- What were your colleagues telling about Belarus at the conference?
- They know Belarus very poorly. That is why such Memorandum is very important to clear up the situation. Of course, those who work in the Council of Europe or in the European Commission are well aware of the situation in Belarus; but as to the academicians and researchers, they often barely know where Belarus is and what its good and bad sides are. Nevertheless, Europeans have developed some common approaches to it.
It is clear that in January the decision regarding Belarus will be made, and the Summit of Minister is scheduled for May. So we have some time to think about it.
We see that the Ministry of Education is trying to do some quite sensible steps to reform our system of education; but we don’t know which of them will be realized and which won’t, and we also know that it is not the Ministry of Education that makes the final decision. However, with all the complaints, we understand that today even the Ministry of Education understands what Europe expects from Belarus and are even ready to make certain concussions, though the final decision is not for them to make.
As for Europe, I see positive attitude to any steps Belarus is making that are aiming at real reformation of the higher education system.
I think that Belarus has a chance today, though a lot depends of how the Belarusan side, namely the authorities, will be able to use this quite positive Europe’s attitude towards our country.