What Bologna Represents and Why We Should Fight It.

The stated aim of the Bologna process (or Bologna accords) is to:

create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. The Bologna Declaration of June 1999 has put in motion a series of reforms needed to make European Higher Education more compatible and comparable, more competitive and more attractive for Europeans and for students and scholars from other continents. Reform was needed then and reform is still needed today if Europe is to match the performance of the best performing systems in the world, notably the United States and Asia.

It acquired its name via the place it was proposed, the University of Bologna in the Italian city of, you guessed it, Bologna. A declaration (1999) signed by Ministers of Education from 29 European countries. It was later extended to other countries signatory to the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe. The real purpose, however, is to consolidate neo-liberalism in higher education and ensure Higher Education is for the elite and not for the masses. What is surprising is that this is achieved through not mentioning the enormous elephant in the living room, language:

Promotion of mobility by overcoming obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement with particular attention ….for students… access to study and training opportunities and to related services



It never of course stipulates what these obstacles are but, apart from standardisation of courses (the necessary primary step for becoming a commodity ), it is obvious that with 23 official European languages, over 50 “unofficial” languages and countless languages spoken by migrants from other continents, language differences do present the major obstacle to an open European market in universities. A problem much more intractable than different currencies, after all a calculator can suffice here. So English is the New Euro or should we say the new world currency:


Without a plan to invest in translators and translation… (itself not a panacea) English and, to a lesser extent German and French, will prosper at the expense of native languages, and, ultimately, students/academics from these non-English speaking countries.


If this appears somewhat over-stated then one must find alternative reasons why the Spanish government proposes to make an oral examination in a foreign language (principally English) part of the selection procedure for all Spanish universities.


How far we have travelled from the revolutionary aspirations of the emergent bourgeoisie and their insistence (bloody struggle) to translate the Bible from Latin into “the language of the people”. Now entry to universities is to be determined not by the ability of an individual to dominate their subject, be it chemistry or engineering, but by their ability to dominate somebody else’s language.


And what better way to ensure the elite prosper at the expense of the less well-off. As C. Deer (2001) points out, “the debate between public and private school was effectively quietened by the expansion of higher education”. If working class children could reach university then  the secondary sphere had completed its purpose. Of course inequality between universities would prevail but Deer’s insight about the shifting focus of political debate is crucial. And it is here that Bologna is at its most repulsive best. Some argue about whether Bologna is privatisation or not. This is not important (indeed private capital will only truly cherry pick the truly profitable and leave the rest to state capitalism). Effectively the concept of an internal market depoliticises the struggle. Shifts the debate from resources to individual competencies. Language learning, requiring considerable input and exposure well beyond the resources of most state schools, will favour those who can afford to pay and neo-liberal policies can disguise this inequality, in the failings of an individual or school..


At Marxist TEFL we oppose Bologna. We oppose its neo-liberal ideology and its linguistic imperialism. We say education is a right for all and should not be  restricted on spurious elitist grounds.





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