Europe’s Bologna Process may be winding down, but that’s not to say it was a failure. In fact, one could argue that one of the reasons Bologna is not quite so front-and-centre as it used to be is that it did its job spectacularly well and that barriers to both educational and labour market mobility have fallen significantly in the last decade.
There are some lessons for Canada here. Briefly, these are:
1) Improving Mobility Means Paying Attention to Quality. This is a fairly simple concept. Credits are a form of currency. If I’m going to take my credits from institution A to institution B, the folks at B are going to need some kind of exchange rate to make that work. No reliable exchange rate, no exchange. The problem in Canada is that we find actual discussions about quality, level and intensity to be, for lack of a better word, icky. Heck, we might have to say things out loud that would be upsetting to certain groups of institutions or students. For example – why do some Ontario universities require 24 hours of contact hours to be deserving of a half-credit while others requires 39? There may well be reasons to consider them equivalent, but unless they are made explicit, it’s hard to imagine how real, universal exchange rates are possible.
2) Improving Mobility Means More External Assessment. At the end of the day, any currency is based on trust. For one institution to accept credits from another requires an institution to believe that the other has credibility. Within small groups of institutions, that works. But it’s ludicrous to think that anyone at (say) Memorial really has a sense of how (say) Kwantlen is handling the transition from uolytechnic to university and hence whether credits from the latter are equivalent to their own. The role of external quality agencies is precisely to provide a neutral “seal of approval.” No seal of approval, no trust, no mobility. Simple as that.
3) Improving Quality and Harmonizing Outcomes Means More Inclusive Policy-Making. Possibly the most interesting thing about Bologna is that it wasn’t exclusively or even primarily an inter-governmental process. To do a Bologna means building a table that includes not just governments, but professional bodies, universities and students as well; it also means moving ahead with less than full consensus when necessary to preserve forward momentum. In Canada no mechanism exists to call these parties together, and important bodies like CMEC and AUCC get queasy without consensus.
Doing a Bologna in Canada would thus require overcoming some deep-set habits. Yet, it’s something we may need to do, and soon. More tomorrow.