“Balanced Mobility” in the Bologna Process Context—Some Critical Reflections

The Origins

The call to support more balanced mobility in the European context was first made in (2007), in the London Communiqué, with education ministers of Bologna countries urging higher education “institutions to take greater responsibility for staff and student mobility, more equitably balanced between countries across the EHEA.” A careful read of the ministers' call reveals that when the ministers asked universities to promote more balanced mobility, they had in mind student mobility within EHEA, i.e. bilateral student flows between EHEA countries.

The intra-EHEA focus of balanced mobility was kept in the ensuing communique of 2009, which specifies that “Mobility should also lead to a more balanced flow of incoming and outgoing students across the European Higher Education Area” (Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve Communique 2009). The Leuven Communiqué adds thus an important note: that the aim of balance concerns not only the bilateral student flows between EHEA countries, but also the relation (or ratio) between total inflows and outflows of individual countries. Last but not least, at the same ministerial conference, the education leaders also tasked the Bologna Process Follow-Up Group (BFUG)—the operational arm of this reform process—to look into “how balanced mobility could be achieved within the EHEA”.

The response to the ministers' question came in (2012), in the Bucharest Communiqué, which stipulates that EHEA countries should “strive for open higher education systems and better balanced mobility in the EHEA. If mobility imbalances between EHEA countries are deemed unsustainable by at least one party, we encourage the countries involved to jointly seek a solution, in line with the EHEA Mobility Strategy.” Therefore, the Bucharest policy document maintains the focus on balance within EHEA, but adds an important detail for understanding the rationale behind this goal, namely that a good solution for correcting imbalances could be bilateral talks between EHEA countries experiencing these situations.

The EHEA Mobility Strategy—Mobility for better learning (2012)—adopted by the ministers of education at the same high-level conference in 2012, adds some essential elements for the discussion and understanding of this policy goal. First, the strategy extends the scope of balanced mobility to flows between EHEA and non-EHEA countries, i.e. clarifies that balanced mobility is not only an internal objective, but also an external goal. Second, the ministers clarify that when they advocate balanced mobility they primarily mean to achieve more balance in degree mobility, rather than in credit mobility (which is by nature more balanced). Third, the strategy specifies that imbalances with regards to (too) high international student inflows were to be particularly tackled: “Efforts made by governments as well as higher education institutions confronted with high levels of incoming degree and credit mobility deserve our acknowledgement and attention in order to strengthen the EHEA.” And fourth, it lists some actions on how imbalances could be addressed, advancing the possibility of multilateral—instead of bilateral only— action, as a last resort: “If thendings show greater imbalances over longer periods of time, the governments concerned should jointly investigate the causes, consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of the specic imbalance and seek solutions if deemed necessary. Dealing with the matter multilaterally might also be considered.”

Therefore to summarize, the Bologna Process policy documents (to date) allow us to conclude the following with regards to the balanced mobility aim. First, that balance is an internal (between EHEA countries), but as of 2012 also an external (between EHEA and non-EHEA countries), objective. Second, that balance is primarily to be sought in bilateral flows between EHEA countries (e.g. between the number of students from country X going to study in country Y and the number of students from country Y coming to study in country X). Third, that nevertheless, at country level, balance is pursued also between total inflows and outflows (e.g. between the total number of students going out of and coming into an EHEA country). And fourth, that particularly imbalances due to high inflows of degree-seeking students should be addressed.

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