Current and Future Prospects for the Bologna Process in the Turkish Higher Education System

Armağan Erdoğan


The fundamental questions of “what a university is” and “what kind of graduate it will produce” have persisted since the birth of universities. In the 21st century, these questions have become more significant for different reasons and under different conditions (Scott 2006). The interaction between trends in globalization and higher education have brought new conditions, opportunities and challenges to higher education systems, which then needed new policies and structures (Altbach and Peterson 1999; Cortese 2003; Enders 2004; Scott 2005; Altbach et al. 2009; OECD 2009). This change has influenced national approaches of the countries and has also been the outcome of global trends in social, cultural, political, economic, and technological developments (Bloom 2005; Altbach et al. 2011; Stromquist and Monkman 2014). More specifically, global economic competition required human resources qualified for the requirements of the age, and higher education systems faced the need for both structural and content reforms (Gibbons 1998). In other words, the realities and requirements of our age directed higher education systems to pursue reforms in teaching, research, and public responsibility functions (Arnove et al. 2012). Common experiences, common challenges and common targets created regional partnerships in order to form new policies, mechanisms, and tools (Sursock and Smidt 2010). In this sense, the Bologna Process (BP) arises as a unique international and regional cooperation to respond to the needs of transparency, comparability and recognition in European higher education (Eurydice 2009). The Bologna Process has reached a critical threshold in its 15th year. Its geographical scope has been enlarged and its substance diversified since its beginning in 1999. The national, international and institutional experiences within this period have created valuable common understanding and knowledge (EHEA 2012; Gaston 2010). The Bologna Process succeeded in establishing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) with 47 countries, international organizations and stakeholders as consultative members, eight Ministerial Conferences, six Communiques, and two Declarations. The stocktaking reports, based on the self-evaluated national reports by each country, seem to be an innovative feature to follow up the implementation levels in each tool. Bologna Follow up Group (BFUG) meetings and a huge amount of work in different topics are other powerful aspects continued on a voluntary base. Moreover, the BP has attained a more global vision since (Bologna Process 2009), as the Bologna Policy Forum was established to extend regional cooperation to the rest of the world. Now, it is in the critical stage to evaluate the outcomes and challenges in order to suggest a roadmap for 2020 and beyond.

This article aims to contribute to the future prospects of the BP by examining Turkey's experiences. It is significant because Turkey's experience of the BP is not discussed very often in either its national or international dimension (Erdoğan 2013). Therefore, in the first section of the article, the experiences of Turkey will be examined through its commitments, regulations, and implementations so far. Another reason for which Turkey's experience might be significant, both for the other countries and for the future of the EHEA as a whole, is that it is a dynamic system which has been enlarged dramatically in the past decade. Challenges and policies to overcome the challenges might inspire other countries. For this reason, in the second section, in-depth interviews with semi-structured questions, conducted with 20 key actors, including policy makers, rectors, ex-rectors, vice rectors, Bologna experts, academic staff, and student representatives, will be analyzed in order to examine the reflections of the implementations on national and institutional basis. The participants were chosen for their knowledge and experience during the implementation of Bologna tools, from various higher education institutions, namely public and foundation, old and new, big and small ones from different parts of the country. Their answers, therefore, will represent an overall approach to the implementation experience. The participants' names and their institutions were kept confidential, their answers were categorized according to salience, and important points were stated in the text. Based on the experiences of Turkey in the BP, the article will offer some recommendations for the future of the EHEA.

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