Our country’s application for membership in the Bologna Process in 2015 might be refused once again, Professor Uladzimir Dunayeu, a representative of the Bologna Committee civic organisation, says. He stresses that the situation as it has developed in Hrodna University negates our chance to join the European educational system.
In 2012 Belarus was turned down because of “the lack of academic freedom, pressure on students and teachers, universities’ dependence on the state”.
According to Uladzimir Dunayeu, there are only two stipulations to be fulfilled: signing the European Cultural Convention and following goals and values of the European Higher Educational Area, e.g. academic freedom and autonomy of universities. Belarus has been a signatory of the Convention since 1993. But the question of academic freedom remains open.
“The situation in Hrodna speaks for both teachers’ and the Rector’s powerlessness. The latter is easy to be removed from his position by the governor [Hrodna Executive Committee Head] if the Rector fails to submit to his orders or simply get in wrong with him,” Mr Dunayeu notes.
According to the expert, every university should have collegial bodies providing its independence from any state authorities: “This is the only way the universities can carry out their mission. Academic freedom is a prerequisite for their effective performance. People meet at the university aiming at finding the truth, which is absolutely impossible if one has to submit to the state’s orders without any chance to speak against them”.
The Belarusian higher education system lacks solidarity and team spirit, Mr Dunayeu said. “Our academic community is so much cowed that it fails even to make a stand for their colleagues, which is happening in Hrodna at the moment,” he added.
European students are unlikely to study in Belarus
To make the country attractive for foreign students the Belarusian authorities do need the Bologna Process because its economic advantages are evident, Professor Dunayeu believes. But it is doubtful that international students will opt for a country which is not integrated into the European Higher Educational Area and cannot boast of the observance of students’ rights. “Students from Turkmenistan may be interested in [the offer] but I’m afraid they will not be able to solve the problems of the Belarusian higher education system and its economy,” he stresses.
The Bologna Process is a series of ministerial meetings and agreements between European countries designed to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications. Through the Bologna Accords, the process has created the European Higher Education Area, in particular under the Lisbon Recognition Convention. It is named after the place it was proposed, the University of Bologna, with the signing of the Bologna declaration by Education Ministers from 29 European countries in 1999, in the spirit of European integration which was en vogue at the time (and which also resulted in the introduction of the Euro at about the same time). The Bologna Process currently has 47 participating countries. In 2003 Russia joined the Process; in 2010 Kazakhstan signed all the necessary documents and became the first Central Asian country in the European Higher Education Area. Belarus has applied for membership of the Bologna Process but this was refused by the member states in 2012, on the grounds that they doubted Belarus’ commitment to academic freedom.