Bologna Follow Up Group Visits Belarus

Delegation of the Bologna Follow Up Group has visited Belarus as part of the process to consider Belarus' application to join the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in 2015. In the course of the visit the delegates met with representatives of Belarusian academia, students and universities, as well as the administration of the Ministry of Education, to assess whether Belarus with its system of higher education is ready to join EHEA

Head of the Education Department of the Council of Europe Sjur Bergan noted that Belarus’ application and the possibility of joining our country to EHEA is now under serious consideration. This was the reason for the visit of the Bologna Follow Up Group to Minsk. According to him, the Council of Europe and the European Commission are concerned with the development of the European Higher Education Area, so they assist all countries participating in the Bologna Process.

Andrejs Rauhvargers, Co-Chair of the Bologna Reporting Group, Secretary General of the Latvian Rectors' Conference

In the course of the seminar "Implementing EHEA: challenges and opportunities", Co-Chair of the Bologna Reporting Groups Andrejs Rauhvargers said that “reviewing an application” remotely and confirming its compliance during a country visit to Belarus were two completely different things. As the Secretary General of the Latvian Rectors’ Conference he noted that the Bologna Process was originally created not just for students but also for citizens, in order to ensure mutual recognition of diplomas and competences of professionals in the labour market (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were all original members of the Bologna Process – editor’s note). In his opinion, ensuring competitiveness of graduates is now a priority for the Bologna Process, however this might be due to economic factors. According to him, there is no evidence that quality of university education is dropping, however, the high level of youth unemployment is a worrying indicator: for example, in Spain it amounts to 35%.

Peter Greisler, Head of Directorate Universities of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany

Representative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Peter Greisler said during a meeting with Minsk academia that there is interest for possible admission of German students to Belarusian academic programmes in English, as well as for admission of more Belarusian students to German educational institutions. According to him, students from Belarus are not just welcome in Germany, there is also demand for them in their own country, a neighbour of the European Union. Greisler used to be a member of the EHEA Mobility and Internationalisation Working Group for Kazakhstan (member of the Bologna Process since 2010 – editor’s note).
Vadzim Bohush, First Deputy Education Minister of Belarus
First Deputy Education Minister of Belarus Vadzim Bohush noted during the seminar that Belarusian students are now actively taking advantage of both national educational instruments and international academic mobility like DAAD, ERASMUS+, IAESTE, etc. Mr. Bohush particularly stressed that last October at the meeting of Republican Council of Rectors representatives of Belarusian academic circles worked out the main directions for development of Belarusian higher education, thus strengthening effective use of EHEA tools. Proposals to modernize Belarusian national system of higher education and results of the civil discussion on introducing corrections to the Education Code are now viewed as the basis for the draft of the Law of Introducing Changes and Amendments to the Education Code. Viktar Haisionak (on the left), Rector of the Republican Institute of Higher Education
Summing up the results of the panel discussion held in the course of the seminar on implementing the Bologna Process, Rector of the Republican Institute of Higher Education Viktar Haisionak noted that Belarus has announced that it is ready to "follow the path of reforming higher education and that the reforms should be done in accordance with the Bologna principles". He also added: "Everything we are going to do will be done with Bologna principles and national interests in mind".

Mikhail Zhuraukou (second on the left), Belarusian Education Minister meeting the Head of the Education Department of the Council of Europe on 04.03.2015

Belarusian Education Minister Mikhail Zhuraukou explained: "International experts point out that Belarus is generally ready. No country that is a Bologna Process member conforms to the prescribed Bologna principles to the full extent. Each country is different, however on the whole we fulfil all the Bologna Declaration requirements and we aspire to do so. Our representatives have described what the progress has been, how we have been resolving issues and implementing recommendations. Everything is going according to the working plan, as we expected".

Interests of European students during the Belarusian visit of the Bologna Follow Up Group were represented by Erin Nordal, Vice-Chairperson of the European Students' Union. She stressed that student participation in university governance, as well as students' engagement in decision-making that affects their lives, is a priority for ESU. According to Nordal, the Bologna process is based on building trust between universities, the society and the Ministry of Education. 

Erin Nordal (second on the right),Vice-Chairperson of the European Students' Union:

"Creating independent agencies to assess the quality of education is one of the fundamental components of the Bologna process: quality of education in this case is assessed externally, with no input from the government or the universities. It should be stressed that such a structure allows us to take an objective look at the quality of education, which is essential for assessing conformity of universities  and their responsibilities".
Co-Chair of the Bologna Follow Up Group and representative of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland Bartlomiej Banaszak stressed that "uniformity or compatibility is one of the characteristic features of the European Higher Education Area".

Bartlomiej Banaszak, Co-Chair of the Bologna Follow Up Group, Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland

The goal of the Bologna Follow Up Group visit has been to set out requirements for further improvement of the Belarusian education system, in particular, the system of qualifications and education quality management. According to Sjur Bergan, Head of the Education Department of the Council of Europe, in case Belarus joins the EHEA it will have less time to adapt to the existing system than countries that joined earlier. He did not rule out the possibility of using a “road map” for Belarus.

Sjur Bergan, Head of the Education Department of the Council of Europe

"This is quite a common procedure which will not just be used for Belarus as it has already been used for other countries that joined the Bologna Process in 2003 and 2004”, - said Sjur Bergan. He added that it is too early to say what the recommendations to the Bologna Follow Up Group will be. The Group will gather for a meeting on the Belarusian issue in Latvian capital Riga on March 24-25. This group will give their recommendations to Education Ministers who will later vote on whether Belarus can join the EHEA when they gather in Yerevan (Armenia) on May 14-15.

Seminar "Implementing European Higher Education Space: Challenges and Opportunities" was organized by the Ministry of Education of Belarus, Belarusian State University and the Council of Europe.

See Photos.

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