Balanced Mobility Across the Board— A Sensible Objective?

Irina Ferencz


The Bologna Process has clearly had a significant contribution to re-shaping the European higher education landscape during the past decade, through the concerted efforts of European countries that joined this reform process to build a common space of education—what became in 2010 the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The main objective of the Bologna Process, that of creating a system of “easily readable and comparable degrees” (i.e. the initially two-cycle, and then the three-cycle system), has been promoted amongst others as a means to facilitate intra-European student mobility and as a tool to increase the “international competitiveness of the European higher education system” (Bologna declaration 1999). The number of international students coming from beyond Europe has been the main proxy used for measuring Europe's competitiveness compared to that of other higher education spaces. In fact, the ideal to increase student mobility—both internally and from the 'outside'—has clearly been at the core of the Bologna Process since the very beginning, actually already from the Sorbonne Declaration (1998), i.e. one year before the de facto signature of the Bologna Declaration.

Student mobility has been a constant theme in the ensuing Bologna Process ministerial communiqués—the political declarations of the ministers of education of Bologna Declaration signatory countries, which set the priorities and areas of joint action for countries part of this higher education space for usually 2–3 years. Ministerial communiqués underlined with regularity the need to remove obstacles to student mobility, to facilitate mobility by integrating mobility windows into the curricula of study programmes and by creating joint study programmes, amongst other support measures. Along the same lines, in 2009, in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve, the ministers put forward the first concrete mobility-related mobility objective, namely that by 2020 “at least 20 % of those graduating in the European Higher Education Area should have had a study or training period abroad”.

The “20 % by 2020” mobility benchmark—as this is often called in European higher education jargon—is currently paralleled by another recently-set objective in the area of student mobility, namely the aim of “balanced mobility”. This is what the present article focuses on, i.e. the concept of “balanced mobility” in the EHEA, and more specifically on its coming into existence as a policy goal, its potential understandings, its status quo and on necessary actions to reach it. Consequently, we first try to trace and understand the goal of having more balanced mobility between the Bologna Process countries, and to sketch different ways in which the concept ofbalancecould be interpreted, given that policy references to balanced mobility leave room for interpretation. Next, we try to provide an answer to the question Why has balanced mobility become an objective at this particular point in time? Third, we present recent statistics on student mobility in the EHEA context in order to show how balanced or imbalanced mobility flows are. Fourth, we try to outline some possible solutions for correcting different types of imbalances encountered in the EHEA context. And last, we try to conclude from the findings of previous sections what would be reasonable to expect in the EHEA context with regards to this policy aim.

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