Towards Social Justice in the Neoliberal Bologna Process

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Synopsis

Table of contents

(11 chapters)

Prelims

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Abstract

This opening chapter introduces the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the project for its development – the Bologna Process, and it explains the growth and current structure of the EHEA and the governance of the Bologna Process. It also explains the interest in Bologna beyond the ‘boundaries’ of the EHEA and introduces the idea that Bologna is linked to promoting social justice in higher education while operating in a neoliberal context. The structure of the book is outlined as well.

Abstract

This chapter conceptualises inclusion and neoliberalism and theorises the relationship between these two phenomena in order to contextualise the debates presented in the rest of the chapters in this book. Additionally, this chapter investigates the evolution of the meaning of ‘inclusion’ in the key international Bologna Process (BP) policy documents. This chapter is informed by a thematic analysis of 26 documents, issued between 1998 and 2020. The chapter demonstrates that understanding ‘inclusion’ only with regard to lifelong learning, student-centred education and the social dimension has pitfalls – there are overlaps between these action lines and, consequently, the relationships among them are unclear. A better way of understanding inclusion in Bologna may be through considering a tight relationship between the inclusion and neoliberal discourses in the support of marginalised groups in higher education (HE). The relationship has been evolving in relevant policy documents since 1998 which is the year that marks the preparatory Sorbonne meeting that gave life to Bologna in 1999. The inclusion discourse grew in strengths, while the neoliberal rhetoric firmly stood its ground since the beginning of the BP, while undergoing some transformations. In spite of such seemingly positive dynamic in the development of inclusion in the BP, its definition remained vague in the policy documents until 2020 as it was unclear which exact underprivileged groups were meant to be supported in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The 2020 conference outcome documents made a significant step towards closing the gaps in our understanding of whom inclusion targets in Bologna and how to implement these inclusion ideas. The chapter highlights this achievement and also prepares the reader to problematise its reach in national contexts later in the book.

Abstract

The Bologna Process (BP) seeks to harmonise higher education (HE) across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The social dimension of the BP was adopted to encourage member states to develop widening access measures. Countries were free to interpret guidance as they saw fit and there were no penalties for non-compliance. This chapter considers the implications of this approach for the implementation of widening access strategies in relation to disabled students and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. We use Eurostudent Survey and Eurostat data to analyse the inclusion of these groups of students in different countries, commenting on interpretational difficulties arising due to non-harmonised definitions and categories. It is argued that allowing countries a high degree of latitude in interpreting the meaning of widening access has resulted in widely different approaches. Harmonised categories would be helpful in ensuring greater consistency, but these might be resisted on the grounds of infringing the autonomy of individual states. Tensions between national and supra-national policy arise in many social policy fields across the EHEA and will certainly need to be addressed in the post-COVID world to avoid the entrenchment of existing social divisions.

Abstract

This chapter provides a qualitative discussion on the role of social justice mechanisms as a response to alleviate stressors within neoliberal frameworks. Lifelong learning (LLL) has various models and goals, inclusive of social justice. It establishes flexible learning modes and environments to expand educational opportunities to include disadvantaged or marginalised individuals (Armstrong, 2014; Yang, Schneller, & Roche, 2015). Further, LLL has the capability to assess new events and use methods to effectively implement strategies that manage negative educational and economic impacts (Sharma, 2004). Within the Bologna Process (BP), LLL continues to be evaluated, and interestingly, LLL operates within this system that aims to create universalised and standardised practices across participating countries. As a result, there is a dynamic relationship of flexible learning within a structured framework.

This chapter addresses the issue of whether and how LLL has been responsive to major social and economic crises that have impacted the BP and inevitably learning processes. To determine LLL responses and possible contributions, a case study examination of policy and implementation in Scotland is presented through the lens of two major global crises. The two crises are the 2008–2009 Global Recession and the 2019–present day COVID-19 pandemic, which have impacted the planning and provision of education across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Analysis is drawn from national government documents, academic and international organisation research papers, an interview and articles from relevant years. Challenges in LLL provision are also presented in the analysis. And although we cannot forecast with certainty the next global crisis to impact our educational system, this chapter concludes with points on how future impacts may be mitigated through LLL.

Abstract

Different higher education initiatives derived from the Bologna Process (BP) agenda have been recontextualised in each country depending on their starting points, their needs, their governments' political orientation and different institutions currently in power. This has led to discrepancies in the interpretation of BP objectives. In the case of the BP in Spain, the social dimension discourse (inclusion, equity and social justice) has prevailed in official documents, but pedagogical practices, driven by the actual process, have resulted in some detrimental outcomes. The educational approaches implemented involve student-centred teaching and learning to facilitate the adaptability of future professionals in the neoliberal context. The main interest in this chapter is in different student profiles: traditional students and those whose profile does not match the traditional student profile (because of being of an older age, concurrently working or having family commitments). The main objectives of this chapter are to analyse the effects of student-centred learning approaches related to the BP on different student profiles in terms of engagement, student experiences and academic results, as well as analyse their differential access to higher education. Quantitative analyses of two data sets have been conducted, including relevant data from Via Universitaria II (2018) report and the database of the Spanish Ministry of Education covering the timeframe between academic years 2015–2016 and 2020–2021. While the data from the latter source suggest the decrease of enrolment of non-traditional students (in terms of social class and age) over time, complementary data from the former source, that confirm these results, question the suitability of the so-called innovative student-centred learning approaches for all, as they seem to put traditional students in a more privileged position with regard to opportunities for academic progress. This analysis is essential for shedding light on the educational inequalities regarding non-traditional students in Spain in the framework of the BP.

Abstract

Higher education (HE) in Slovakia is undergoing a second massive wave of transformation that is a direct post-socialist response to the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) (ESG, 2015). In Slovakia, these standards have led to the end of the previous accreditation model and the emergence of a new accreditation agency. It is through the new forms of assessment and assessment standards that one can observe the second wave of the neoliberalisation of HE in Slovakia that stems from the Bologna Process (BP). The chapter describes the nature and consequences of this second wave. The question is whether the new accreditation standards in Slovakia take into account the idea of social justice in HE and what type of effects the second wave of ‘Bologna’ neoliberalisation is having on social justice. The chapter relies on a thematic analysis of the following types of documents issued between 2002 and 2020: strategic government documents, internal regulations of the accreditation agency and course accreditation manuals. It compares the discourses on the accreditation criteria in both waves of the neoliberalisation of HE in Slovakia. The results of the analysis show that the meaning of social justice in these discourses lacks the emphasis on the social dimension particularly in the second phase of the BP in Slovakia.

Abstract

Turkey has been an active member of the Bologna Process (BP) since 2001. This chapter focuses on the impact of the BP on higher education (HE) in Turkey by outlining the reforms that were carried out and the narratives surrounding the changes. The focus of the chapter will be on how the BP has been accommodated, negotiated debated or rejected in Turkey and the societal and political tensions surrounding the process. The chapter is based on the findings of semi-structured interviews conducted with the Bologna experts and the officials of universities in Turkey, who were responsible for the reforms between 2009 and 2016, as well as a review of updated data and the analysis of secondary literature and official texts, such as the National Reports of the BP and the relevant policy documents in Turkey. After a very intense reform process, the policy transfer in Turkey slowed down, and Turkey's discussions, specifically about the BP both at the policy and the university level, became close to non-existent. The chapter aims to analyse the reasons behind the loss of interest in the BP in Turkey by focusing on the critical voices and discussions surrounding the neoliberalisation of HE. The chapter will also refer to how Euroscepticism in Turkey impacted the reform process in HE.

Abstract

This chapter presents a case of the adoption of the Bologna Process (BP) outside the boundaries of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) – in Cameroon. The adoption of the BP lines of action has triggered higher education (HE) reforms in Cameroon including reforms to enhance graduate employability. In Cameroon, graduate employability is promoted through ‘professionalisation’ of degree programmes – which seeks to prepare students with employment-ready skills and competences capable of adapting to the fast and highly competitive global economy either as job seekers or job creators. With the use of policy documents, existing literature and interviews with policymakers and university officials, this chapter examines the framing of employability from the perspective of social justice and neoliberal discourses. The analysis highlights the idea that while the overall goal is to promote social justice by enhancing the employability skills of all graduates to gain employment through a diverse set of employability pathways, some of the pathways are dominated by neoliberal ideologists discussed in this chapter via mode of governance, commodifying training and commodifying access. The different focuses and operationalisation of social justice and neoliberalism reveal tension as social justice emphasises training for all while neoliberalism emphasises training only for those students with the purchasing power.

Abstract

This book has brought together contributions which highlight two very important themes in higher education (HE) – neoliberalism and inclusion. These themes have been examined specifically within the context of the Bologna Process (BP), although the issues raised also speak to other education policy contexts beyond Bologna. These themes are discussed in seven chapters – at the international level and in six different national contexts. At the international level, attention has been paid to tracing the conceptualisation and the evolution of inclusion and neoliberalism in key BP policy documents at different phases of the process (see Chapter 2). At the national level, these themes have been examined within the national contexts of Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Scotland and Cameroon with different connections and relationships to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). In this concluding Chapter, we elaborate further on these themes, their relationship to each other based on the case studies covered and explore how inclusion discourses evolved in the neoliberal context of the BP while drawing attention to aspects of the inclusion agenda that require further attention. As the compilation stage of this book coincided with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we also reflect on the implications of this invasion for social justice and neoliberalism in the BP through actions taken by the EHEA.

Index

Pages 175-180
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Cover of Towards Social Justice in the Neoliberal Bologna Process
DOI
10.1108/9781801178808
Publication date
2023-01-23
Editors
ISBN
978-1-80117-881-5
eISBN
978-1-80117-880-8