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The dynamics of human capital and the world of work

Towards a common market in contemporary tertiary education

Author - Aidan Kenny


 


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3 The reform context

Over the last two decades policy makers in developed countries have prioritised the development of policy initiatives focused on reforming tertiary education and training in an effort to stimulate the realisation of a knowledge economy. Policy initiatives were developed in numerous areas such as, access, quality, evaluation, assessment, funding, ranking, pedagogy, recognition and qualifications. Key characteristics of this emerging policy agenda were new systems of accountability, managerialism, rationalisation, performance indicators, application of ICT, restructuring of systems and learning and teaching practice. To gain a picture of the reform context this section provides some details on three major European Union policy initiatives – Bologna, Lisbon, European Qualifications Framework (EQF) – and the strategies of some supranational organisations.

4 European Union

The European Union has initiated three major tertiary education reform initiatives during the present decade, the Bologna Declaration 1999, The Lisbon Strategy 2000 and the European Qualifications Framework 2006. The Bologna Declaration states:

A Europe of Knowledge is now widely recognised as an irreplaceable factor for social and human growth and as an indispensable component to consolidate and enrich the European citizenship, capable of giving its citizens the necessary competences to face the challenges of the new millennium, together with an awareness of shared values and belonging to a common social and cultural space.

(1999: 1)

The Declaration aims to achieve a European Higher Education Area that can further the intellectual, social, cultural, economic, scientific and technological base of Europe. It details six principle measures which could facilitate the process of compatibility, comparability and integration of higher education systems in Europe.

  1. ‘Easily readable and comparable degrees’ – including a Diploma Supplement, to enhance employability and increase international competitiveness in higher education systems.
  2. ‘Two main cycles’[3] – first cycle undergraduate (minimum of three years, programmes should have relevance to the European labour market), second cycle graduate (Masters and Doctorate levels).
  3. ‘System of credits’[4] – development of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) to promote student mobility (credits can be acquired in the non-university sector).
  4. ‘Promote mobility’– reduce barriers that restrict the free movement of students, teachers, researchers, administrators.
  5. ‘Promote European co-operation in quality assurance’[5] – develop comparable criteria and methodologies.
  6. ‘Promote European dimension in higher education’ – curriculum, integrated programmes, and mobility.

The Bologna Declaration is a significant policy framework for the integration of the European higher education sector. It has the potential to create a European higher education block, which could advance both the internal higher education market for human capital in terms of students, academics and experts and act as a major attracter for international human capital, challenging the dominance of the USA and Australia particularly in the international student market.[6] The policy intent seems to lean towards convergence of higher education systems in Europe, although the diversity of existing systems in terms of traditions, culture, autonomy, capacity, capabilities, politics, reputations and standards may present some obstacles and even resistance to its full implementation.


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