The Bologna Process, named after the place where it was proposed – the University of Bologna -, currently has 47 participating countries. It then becomes obvious that it is not an EU-exclusive initiative, as commonly believed, since the EU only has 27 member states. Portugal is part of the first 29 signatories of the Bologna declaration, in 1999. Further, Portugal has helped establish the European Higher Education Area through the Bologna Accords, under the Lisbon Recognition Convention.
The goal of the Bologna Process is to organize higher education systems in European countries in such a way that it becomes more attractive to study in Europe, to students coming from non-European countries, with emphasis on the USA, as there are adoptions of American aspects of higher education. It becomes even easier for European students to change countries in order to study or work further, as now their education is recognized in other countries and is more standardized. This will aid in making the European Higher Education Area a broad, high-quality advanced knowledge base.
The Bologna Process consists of a basic framework of three cycles of higher education, defined in terms of qualifications and European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) credits, which are recognized in every school conforming to the Bologna Process. One academic year equals 60 credits, which correspond to 1500-1800 hours of study. The first cycle comprises 180-240 credits and usually awards a bachelor’s degree. The second cycle requires a minimum of 60 credits, but typically comprises 90-120 credits and awards a Master’s degree. One must achieve a Master’s degree in order to pursue a Doctoral degree, the third cycle, which has no ECTS range given. Generally, these will respectively take 3, 2 and 3 years to complete and the naming of the degrees may vary between countries. In Portugal, most universities have adhered to the Bologna Process. The old “bacharelato” (bachelor’s) is now a “licenciatura” under Bologna and usually takes 3 years to complete. It is also common for universities to offer an “integrated master’s degree”, a “mestrado integrado”, which takes students another 2 years of study immediately after achieving a bachelor’s degree to complete. Students studying in Portugal are then able to undertake a doctoral degree, a “doutoramento”, which takes about 3 years.
This new Process comes closer to the North American and Japanese systems and gives greater weight to practical training and intensive research projects. This means that students are not only evaluated base on their exam performance, but also on lab experiments, presentations, hours spent on study, innovation capabilities, etc. As such, credits are measured in a way that reflects how hard a student has worked.
However, the Bologna Process has also come under criticism, even during its implementation, due to the fact that it resembles the models that already existed in Ireland and the UK, rather than those used in most of Continental Europe.
For those who wish to study in Portugal coming from a foreign country, European or not, the Bologna Process may facilitate integration and a wider recognition of any degrees obtained, whether a bachelor’s/licenciatura, master’s/mestrado or doctorate/doutoramento.