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New IIE Survey Examines Response By U.S. Higher Education To European Higher Education Area Reforms

Briefing Paper Outlines Doctoral Universities' Policies Toward Bologna-Compliant Degrees

NEW YORK, April 27—Ten years ago, in June 1999, a group of 29 European Ministers signed the Bologna Declaration with the goal of establishing the European Higher Education Area by 2010 and promoting the European system of higher education world-wide. This week, 46 European Higher Education Area Ministers will gather for the 5th biennial EHEA Ministerial Conference, to take stock of the first decade of this initiative and jointly define goals for the coming years.

The changes in higher education policy and practices in Europe that have resulted from this initiative, collectively known as the Bologna Process, are having a global impact, stimulating significant worldwide discussion on higher education collaboration and cooperation. Recent debate in the United States higher education community has raised questions regarding whether doctoral granting universities are prepared to handle students who graduate from European universities with Bologna-compliant degrees, and how the changes will affect the flow of students in both directions across the Atlantic. The Institute of International Education has conducted a survey and published a new report, "Three-Year Bologna-Compliant Degrees: Responses From U.S. Graduate Schools," to address these issues.

This ambitious effort to create transparency across diverse European national educational systems now has 46 signatory countries encompassing all of Europe, with the exception of Belarus. Collectively these countries represent nearly 25% of the world's nations and a large portion of the developed world, and have nearly 4,000 higher education institutions within their borders. Further, they represent 13% of the total international student population in the U.S., with nearly 84,000 students.

At this juncture, it is important to look at the changes that have occurred through the Bologna Process in the context of transatlantic exchange, and how they affect the way U.S. higher education institutions are approaching graduate admissions, awarding transfer credit and credit for study abroad, and advancing institutional linkages.

To this end, the Institute of International Education (IIE) conducted an online survey of U.S. doctoral-granting universities in early fall of 2008 to examine the following questions: What level of understanding of the Bologna reforms and recognition of Bologna-compliant credentials exists in the United States? More specifically, how are three-year undergraduate Bologna-compliant credentials viewed for admission to U.S. graduate study?

This snapshot survey shows relatively high levels of knowledge about the Bologna Process among survey respondents, who represented 167 programs at 120 U.S. institutions. Respondents also indicated that graduate admissions staff and graduate deans had a strong grasp of the Bologna reforms. More than half of respondents said their institutions had an official policy in place to guide the admissions response to three-year Bologna-compliant degrees; within this group, a third tended to view three-year Bologna-compliant degrees as equivalent to U.S. four-year degrees, and another third decided equivalency on a case-by-case basis. Respondents felt that the applicant's preparation for study in the specific field remained a much more important factor in academic faculty decisions than degree length. Yet despite the high levels of knowledge and formalized admissions procedures related to three-year Bologna-compliant degrees, most respondents said that at the moment, few applicants to their institutions hold these credentials. Graduate professionals commented that they are closely monitoring the evolution of the Bologna Process and that the EHEA reforms have created an opportunity on some campuses for larger discussions how international credentials are perceived and evaluated.

Learn more about the Briefing Paper


About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education (IIE), an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1919, is the world's most experienced global higher education and professional exchange organization. IIE has a network of 20 offices worldwide, more than 1,000 college and university members, and more than 5,000 volunteers. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government and private sources. These programs include the Fulbright and Humphrey Fellowships and the Gilman Scholarships administered for the U.S. Department of State.

IIE Briefing Papers are a rapid response to the changing landscape of international education, offering timely snapshots of critical issues in the field. They are intended as a resource for the higher education community and other interested individuals, as well as for print, broadcast and online journalists interested in covering developments in international education.

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