Lessons of Lithuanian. Belarusian Experts in Higher Education Learn their Neighbours' Experience in Switching to Bologna System

Round-table 'Belarus on Its Way Towards European Area of Higher Education takes place in Minsk


Translated by ODB

Despite the fact that Belarus is not part of the Europena Area of Higher Education, calling the country a new-comer in this proccess would be unfair. In 2009-2011, Belarus was actively preparing a membership application for International Bologna Secretariat and and these effords caused a lot of discussion nationally and internationally. Currently, the process of transition to Bologna system slowed done however has not been interrupted. This small break gives Belarus time to reflect and learn from its neighbours' experience.

"Forewarned is forearmed" - This saying became a slogan for the round-table  'Belarus on Its Way towards European Area of Higher Education' that took place on January 28 in Minsk. The meeting gathered teachers from different universities of Belarus, National Institute for Higher Education, Centre for Students' Initiative, and Independent Public Bologna Committee. Professor Rimantas Zelvys, Vice-Rector for Research of Vilnius Pedagogical University (Lithuania) was an invited speaker at the event. During the first panel he spoke about Lithuania's joining the Bologna process, the challenges that the university had to face and the ways to address them. Mr Zelvys identified four types of countries regarding their involvement in Bologna process:

•    Western-European states that have stronger tradition of university's autonomy. These countries were the initiators of Bologna process and form its main principles;
•    Central- and Eastern-European countries that ones were part of socialist camp, but became the EU members and belong to the European Area of Higher Education. Their peculiarity is that they had to quickly conduct a number of radical and sometimes even painful reforms;
•    Eastern-European states that are not EU members but belong to the European Area of Higher Education. In their case the transition took place with no pressure and changes were mostly of cosmetic nature;
•    And finally, the countries that are not EU members and did not join the Bologna process, including Belarus.

Siarhei Vetohin (Belarusian State Technical University), Remantas Zelvys (Vilnius Pedagogical University), Vitali Shapiatsiuk (National Institue for Higher Education)
Vadzim Mazheika (Liberal Club), Natallia Bandarenka , International University "MITSO"

In his speech, Mr Zelvys paid special attention to the difficulties Lithuanian universities faced during the transition period. The main elements of Bologna system being three-stage training (baccalaureate, magistracy, and doctorate) and application of credits to estimate knowledge and skills, differ dramatically from that in the post-Soviet countries. He believes that misinterpretation of these elements create the major obstacle for joining the Bologna process.

Another important change that the universities of Lithuania had to go through was  universities' autonomy. The Bologna principles suppose the minimum influence of state to higher education. The decision-making power goes to the Senate as in internal body and to the Board of Trustees as an external, while the government can accredit colleges and universities,  monitor teachers' qualification and control financial management.
Mr Zelvys believes in the Bologna future for Belarus. " In my opinion, the European system is the future of higher education. My country has already started the process, and despite all the difficulties, I cannot imagine that we would return to the old system. It seems to me Belarus could quite fit into the Bologna process as well. Believe me, even the changes that may seem a pure formality in the beginning later will start bringing results,' he said.

The Minsk-based Office for European Expertise and Communication was among the co-organisers' of the event. More information about other programmes on higher education the Office implements can be found at this link