Implementation of the Bologna Declaration: The Netherlands and Greece

In the past three issues of WENR we’ve presented four countries that are in the process of implementing significant educational reforms in line with the Bologna Declaration, which was signed in 1999. As we have seen, France, Germany, Italy and Austria have all introduced bachelor’s and master’s degree programs as an alternative to their traditional one-tiered systems of higher education.

We will now take a close look at the Netherlands and Greece. These are two countries that are signatories to the Bologna Declaration, but have experienced some resistance on the home front with regard to the actual implementation of the reforms called for in the agreement. In the Netherlands the protests are subtle. Members of parliament recently claimed, for instance, that the introduction of a new Dutch bachelor’s degree in 1998 preempted the Bologna Declaration, and therefore the Netherlands is not obligated to make any further changes to its system of higher education.

The debates in Greece are more acrimonious however, with professors, students, and some professional unions diametrically opposed to the Bologna Declaration.

Part V: The Netherlands

[1]Higher education in the Netherlands is provided by two types of institutions: hogescholen (polytechnics), offering professional training; and universities, which provide traditional university education. Two alternatives to this system are the Open University [2], and academic programs administered jointly with foreign institutions.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science [3] is responsible for administering all levels of education in the country. There are currently 13 universities in operation, the youngest being the University of Limburg, which opened in 1976.

Current System of Higher Education (since 1993)

Stage I: Higher professional education, called hoger beroepsonderwijs (HBO) is provided by hogescholen, which offer four-year degree programs in engineering, business administration, allied health, fine arts, education, agriculture and social services. Students who successfully complete these programs are awarded the HBO diploma (bachelor’s).

Most hogescholen offer post-HBO programs, which can last anywhere from several weeks to four years, and lead to a diploma or certificate. These programs provide advanced professional training and refresher courses. Experience in a particular field is often a prerequisite for admission. Emphasis is on practical application of the material.

A growing number of hogescholen offer master’s degrees, usually in conjunction with a foreign university. Master’s programs, which offer advanced training in a number of fields, differ from one another in terms of duration, curricula and the institution conferring the degree. Degrees are awarded either jointly by the hogeschool and the foreign (usually British) institution, or by the hogeschool itself.

Stages I and II: University education, wetenschappelijke onderwijs (WO), leads to the doctoraal diploma awarded upon completion of a leaving examination called the doctoraalexamen. Programs are four to five years in length, although students generally take much longer to finish. In most disciplines, students are allowed to take up to six years. Students enrolled in dentistry, philosophy, engineering, agriculture, medicine, pharmacy and veterinary medicine are given seven to eight years to complete their degree programs.

Universities offer a number of post-doctoraal or professional qualifications such as a one-year teacher-training program for university, upper-level secondary and HBO teaching positions. There are also short-term post-degree programs for upgrading professional skills.

Several Dutch universities offer a one-year master’s program. NOTE: The master’s degree is not considered to be a higher level degree than the doctoraal. It was originally introduced to give foreign students a viable alternative to the country’s traditional one-tiered system of higher education provided by universities.

Stage III: Doctoral (Ph.D.) programs require four years of research-oriented study and lead to the promotie, also referred to as the doctoraat. Doctoral candidates are required to write and defend a dissertation, and do some teaching as well.

Recent Reforms

In 1998 the Netherlands introduced a new university bachelor’s degree (the kandidaats), requiring a minimum of three years of study. It is also considered as a first degree, which can lead to a doctoraal after one to two years of further study. Hence, at the bachelor level, there are now two types of qualifications: a professional qualification (the HBO diploma) giving students immediate access to the job market; and a new university qualification (the kandidaats), that can provide access to a master’s program.

As this reform measure was implemented before the signing of the Bologna Declaration, the Dutch parliament has strongly intimated that the Netherlands is already in compliance with the multilateral agreement and need not make any additional changes. One of the cornerstones of Bologna is the adoption of a two-tiered system of education (consisting of bachelor’s and master’s degrees), something that the Dutch government already claims to have done.

Part VI: Greece

[4]Education in Greece is centralized and controlled by the state. Higher education is provided by university-level institutions, called anotata ekpedeutika idrimata (A.E.I.), and technical education institutes, known as anotera ekpedeutica idrimata (T.E.I.). Greek law permits the establishment of privately owned nursery, primary and secondary schools (all of which are required to follow the national curriculum). However, the constitution expressly forbids the establishment of private, degree-granting institutions of higher education. The academic year runs from September to October and is divided into two semesters.

The current structure of higher education in Greece follows a binary system offering university and non-university higher education for studies up to the doctoral level. In 1997-98, thirty optional study programs were introduced to provide greater flexibility for students. These programs offer courses that can be taken individually or in combination, and are designed to better meet the needs of the changing labor market.

In 2000, general examinations (genikes exetases) to enter higher education were abolished. Those with upper-secondary school qualifications are now admitted to all departments within institutions of higher education.

Current System of Higher Education

Stage I: Programs offered by technical educational institutes (T.E.I.) leading to a professionally-oriented first degree (ptychio) last three-and-one-half to four years. All programs require one semester of practical training and a thesis.

T.E.I.s do not offer post-graduate programs.

Stages I and II: University programs leading to the first degree (ptychio) require between four and six years of study depending on the area of specialization.

Universities also offer post-graduate certificates and diplomas (diploma metaptychiakon spoudon) in a limited number of fields.

Stage III: The doctorate (didaktorikon) normally takes three years, and is a prerequisite for teaching at the university level.
The Greek Response to the Bologna Declaration

On June 28, 2000, the Greek Ministry of Education issued a statement summarizing the government’s official position on the Bologna Declaration, and the resistance it is encountering from professors, students and some professional unions. We have included the entire communiqué below.

State of the Art of the Bologna Process in Greece

The general elections in April, together with the appointment of a new minister of education, have produced a delay in the planning and implementation of initiatives aimed at facilitating the Bologna process in Greece. In the universities of course, the debate sparked by the Bologna Declaration has been brewing since the beginning of the current academic year. However, this debate has largely been confined to several meetings and forums, and has also been raised during the regular sessions of the Universities Rectors’ Conference.

Perhaps we should preface our remarks by saying that two years ago Greece was one of the countries that viewed the Sorbonne Declaration with caution and even suspicion. Hence the confusion over “what Sorbonne says and what it does not say” actually affected how people reacted to Bologna.

One can say that the current debate in Greece over Bologna is focused on three points–all of which appear in the Bologna Declaration itself:

The first point has to do with the idea of a new degree structure. In Greece, there is strong skepticism concerning the establishment of a bachelor’s degree awarded after at least three years of study. This skepticism takes the form of strong opposition when the relevant discussions take place in technical universities and in faculties of engineering. It is quite interesting to add here that the opposition front includes all the relevant partners: Professors and students in addition to the Technical Chamber and the professional engineering unions

The second point has to do with the internal structure of the Greek higher education system, which is divided into university and the non-university sectors. A certain amount of antagonism has emerged between the two systems. The reasons for this rivalry are complex and largely rooted in the Greek Constitution, and further exacerbated through several judgements issued by the Greek Supreme Court (Council of State). This point is indirectly related to the implementation of the Bologna Declaration, as introducing a new degree structure will affect both sectors of higher education. And this is still a problem in Greece.

Editor’s note: The rift between the university and non-university sectors can be largely attributed to recent discussions calling for the upgrading of the non-university sector.

The third point has to do with the phenomenon of transnational education practices within Greece and its implications therein. It is well known that Greece attracts a large number of higher education exporters, mostly from the United Kingdom and United States. The establishment of foreign universities in Greece is viewed as promoting the privatization of higher education. Furthermore, serious concern is paid to the fact that the great majority of the Greek “colleges” affiliated with foreign universities through franchising contracts do not guarantee the appropriate quality of the programs being offered. Therefore, academic programs in Greece that are offered through foreign franchises are considered to be commercial enterprises, which do not meet government-approved standards.

In spite of the situation, the Ministry of Education is preparing its agenda for the coming months, up until the Prague Conference. Our efforts will focus on the need for a wide dissemination of all the important documents concerning the Bologna Declaration throughout both the two sectors of higher education. During the summer months, the ministry is going to prepare a Greek translation of the Declaration together with the appropriate analysis.

Before the end of December 2000, the ministry is going to organize one or two national seminars on the Bologna process in co-operation with the Universities Rectors’ Conference and the Technological Institutes Presidents’ Conference. Our intention is to invite to this seminar a number of key persons to give some of the keynote presentations on Bologna’s main issues, as well as to present the relevant initiatives in one or two specific countries in the form of case studies.

At the same time, the Ministry of Education is going to co-operate with Greek institutions of higher education, in order to assure their wider participation both in the thematic international seminars and in the academic meeting to be organized by CRE and the Confederation before the Prague meeting.

The efforts of the Ministry of Education will further focus on the need for establishing the appropriate climate in the higher education system in Greece at the very first months of 2001, so that the discussions between the ministry and institutions of higher education will be much more effective than they are now.

Finally, at the legislative level, the Ministry of Education is going to initiate discussions with the universities aimed at reforming three areas of higher education: “autonomy – accountability – quality”. One of the major objectives of this reform will be to establish a national system for quality assessment and assurance in higher education, in accordance with the corresponding points of the Bologna Declaration and within the framework of the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education. At the same time, the Greek government will focus its energies on trying to resolve the dispute between the two sectors of higher education.