Are Bologna reform and academic education a contradiction in terms, as critics claim? Or are antiquated reactions partly to blame for the disagreement? What must be changed or revived if the promise of "educational encounters" at university is to be filled with life again?
© view7 - Photocase.comThe following considerations could appear to be an invective against those who have laboured for over a decade to make the best of Bologna - be it due to a deeply held conviction or a sense of duty. This article is dedicated to them - to all those who have invested a large part of their life and not lost the belief that education through scholarship is possible and necessary. At the same time it is a thank you to them and a recognition of the fact that the reform of course also had some very positive aspects when it replaced egotistical arbitrariness with clearly defined rules.
To avoid the suspicion of wanting only to rescue academic Germania, the continental heritage of academic thinking, when allegedly everyone has already understood that the future of the world is Anglo-American, allow me to quote John Stuart Mill on 1 February 1867: He declares that a university "is not a place of professional education", that "universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood". He is opposed to the "study of professions" and clearly states that academic education ends where education ceases to be general. Beyond the traditional German university idea, this notion therefore clearly once existed in the very North Atlantic world that has today succeeded in causing the whole of Europe to forget its continental education theoretical roots and replace them with an allegedly globalisation-ready concept of professional education in the academic sphere.
Those who have to ask what general academic education might be leave themselves open to the suspicion of having fundamentally no access to what characterises education as a sphere for facilitation. It is a semantic field, the limits of which are defined by the fact that one can at least explain what education is not. In 1997, when we were faced with the task of finding a text for the back cover of our book on the school system and were discussing by which negative definition it might perhaps also be possible to characterise education, Niklas Luhmann and I decided to define it in contrast to "schooling". That is why the back cover now reads: "Schooling is an imposition, education is an offering". - The more we determine academic teaching, its contents, the methods by which it is conveyed and the procedures by which achievement is tested, the more we depart from the figuration of an offering.
Bologna and continental educational traditionWere we to arrive at the conclusion that the new degree programmes are not an offering but an imposition, then education could not take place within them. In that case, what takes place at university would have been transformed from an educational event to a schooling process.
With a certain interest in system development processes one might wish to raise the question of how this could happen, why the continental and in particular also the German educational tradition was so weak that it could be steamrollered by an institutional imperialism enacted by the globalisation process in the third sector. Did the Bologna process thrust into a vacuum of evaluative commonality created by the quantitative explosion of the tertiary sector, and did it promise to solve many problems at once: insufficient mobility within Europe and beyond it; the arbitrariness of content in academic curricula; the supposedly lacking vocational orientation of degree courses; or the apparently politically motivated liberality in terms of quality expectations, exam results and commitments, which was in truth often based on teaching staff's desire to avoid exertion?
Incidentally, the same problems were identified in the culture where the Bachelor-Master system and the new university type originated, and were successfully dealt with. Hans Weiler for example recently pointed out that the American university system does indeed focus on the "opportunity for personal development through education"; that it avoids assuming a standardised "normal type" of student and therefore differentiates far more strongly, also institutionally; that the US system has long since significantly widened access to academic degree courses; that advice and support are provided as a matter of course; and that distinctions are made for example between degree courses with greater practical or greater research relevance.
Occupational ability is not the only goalThe implementation of the Bologna Process therefore does not necessarily have to result in educational institutions becoming schooling institutions, if one retains the idea that academic science and research exist not only to produce professionally qualified people but also to open up spaces to these people in their attitude towards the world - to open up spaces to the very people who, becoming ever younger, place their trust in us in wishing to have such spaces revealed to them.
After the past few years however we have somehow all understood that we cannot go on as before. But instead of concentrating on the contents, on the expectations we have of academic teachers to become role models in the passionate search for truth and commitment, we perhaps respond too quickly with the tools of the service industry: "quality assurance". Its introduction is a typical path-dependent decision that follows logically from one taken earlier on. This measure could be unnecessary if universities were educational institutions; educated people need neither socio-pedagogical support nor do they need coaching or advice on their increasingly bulging CVs. Quality should really be a question of attitude rather than of management.
As a student I occasionally worked in a chocolate factory during the holidays. Because we felt that we were badly paid, we occasionally broke the freshly boxed chocolates on the production line with a small hammer before placing the lid on the box, and the particularly daring among us brought dead mice with them which they inserted into some of the boxes after eating the chocolates themselves. A quality management system put a stop to these antics. We therefore have to ask ourselves: which dead mice have the universities inserted into their curricula, into their academic teaching, that made it necessary to introduce quality management? We are all familiar with these cadavers. Combating them solely instrumentally leads us to polarities of reward and punishment, of condescension and cluelessness, of vanity and neglect, of officiousness and laxity.
We find ourselves faced with an unpleasant question: should we compensate the loss of "educational encounters" in academic teaching with the methods of mentoring? Should we replace dedication to the cause (Schleiermacher, Horkheimer) with quality management? And should we relieve individual graduates of the responsibility for their own lives and even heave them into their first professional employment? All this requires an unbelievable amount of energy, money and vexation, amid which staff are meanwhile displaying profound signs of burnout. Should we not instead be opting to focus our remaining energy on living with Bologna in such a way that we deal with its formalities only to the extent that is absolutely necessary, and indicate that we are aware of the impossibility of arithmetically recording quality?
What defines an educational institution?Should we not be focusing our energy on training young academics for educational institutions and encouraging the existing staff to place their expertise at the service of the general? Would that be academic teaching, - that acts in a "problem-based" and "enquiry-based" fashion, two methods that are a matter of course in the BA/MA concept's country of origin, - that helps young people learn to identify and anticipate our problems and theirs, and most importantly to offer solutions, - that is based on the self-learning activity of the human mind instead of its instruction? Would that be an academic operation in which student teaching has a fixed place? Would those be decision-making processes that lead to successful results because those who are affected by solutions were involved in creating them? Would those be curriculum contents that were general enough to enable education and specific enough to prevent mere babble? And would those be performance reviews that truly said something about the personality of a student in its entire breadth instead of about his or her ability to cope with tests and exams?
Perhaps that would be a university for the long-term future, one which sees its goal in not taking more from the world than it gives back. It is a mistake to believe that such a movement has to oppose the intentions of the previous 15 years, which after all are fundamentally compatible with the aim of education towards world citizenship, are perhaps even an attempt to make it come true. We should not be alarmed in these considerations by the portents of doom. However, such thoughts must also not offer room to those who under the mantle of effecting education would use its undefinedness to revive the idea of "anything goes", which, if in doubt, is not a regulative idea but would only be symptomatic of laziness and stupidity. Bologna 2.0 must be not only an "update" but also to some extent a "remake" of education.
Abbreviated and revised version of a talk held by the author at the ZEIT conference "University and Education" on 9 July 2010.
From Forschung und Lehre :: October 2010
30. March 2017
Hong Kong Baptist University
11. April 2017