For the October issue of Vox Academiae, we asked the Rector of the University of Antwerp, Professor Herman Van Goethem, to share his thoughts on the future of the European diploma. His full statement is available below.
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It is with great pleasure and a sense of immense responsibility that I share my thoughts on the European Diploma scheme, a visionary project that aims to redefine the landscape of education and mobility in Europe. As the rector of a Flemish university, I find it fitting to discuss the importance of the FOCI project – the Future-proof Criteria for Innovative European Education – and the need to uphold the long-standing Bologna agreements across more European countries.
The European Diploma scheme, in essence, represents the aspirations of a united Europe – a vision where students, researchers, and professionals have the freedom to move seamlessly across borders. It is the embodiment of a joint European degree, supported by common criteria, designed to validate learning outcomes achieved through cross-border collaboration among institutions. This European Degree, easily accessible, storable, shareable, verifiable, and authentic, is a beacon of academic excellence and cooperation.
The path to realizing this vision is a journey that necessitates a shift in the way we collaborate within the European Union. In pursuit of this transformation, three European university alliances, ECIU, EPICUR, and our very own YUFE, are pioneering the FOCI project. This pilot project, running from March 2023 to March 2024, is generously supported by the European Commission. FOCI aims not only to shape the future of the European Degree but also to innovate its approach.
FOCI is more than just a project; it is a collaborative effort involving various stakeholders, such as students, labor market representatives, national authorities, and quality assurance agencies. By bringing these diverse voices together, FOCI aims to explore the fundamental needs and expectations surrounding the European Degree label.
The road ahead is not without its challenges, and one of the primary hurdles we encounter is the implementation challenges. Europe boasts a myriad of educational systems, each with its unique traditions, languages, and cultures, accompanied by varying rules and regulations. Bridging these gaps while valuing the diverse strengths of each institution is a delicate balancing act, often requiring substantial resources and time.
Furthermore, it is crucial that we acknowledge the potential pitfalls of the European diploma scheme openly:
Loss of Diversity: The quest for standardization must not overshadow the rich tapestry of educational diversity in Europe. Our unique cultural and academic flavors are assets that should not be compromised.
Quality Assurance: Maintaining high educational standards is non-negotiable. Our quality assurance mechanisms must be robust to ensure the continued excellence of education and degrees.
Potential Resistance: Change often meets resistance. Convincing all stakeholders to embrace this vision can be a formidable task, as some institutions and governments may hesitate to relinquish control over their education systems and degrees.
Despite these challenges, the European diploma scheme has the potential to be a transformative force for education and mobility in Europe. It can usher in an era of enhanced mobility, harmonized academic standards, cultural exchange, improved employability, and extensive research collaboration.
Enhanced Mobility: The scheme can unlock greater mobility for students and professionals, making studying in different countries and working across EU member states more accessible and seamless.
Standardization: It aims to establish a common set of academic standards, fostering trust in the quality of education and degrees.
Cultural Exchange: The scheme encourages students to embrace the richness of cultural exchange, making studying abroad a pathway to a more globally aware education.
Employability: Graduates with diplomas recognized throughout Europe may find enhanced employability in an increasingly interconnected job market.
Research Collaboration: This scheme paves the way for extensive research collaborations among European universities, promising innovation and knowledge-sharing on a grand scale.
As we look to the future, the pilot project FOCI will continue to evolve, refine, and enhance transnational cooperation. The challenges are undeniable, but the vision is unwavering – a brighter, more integrated future for European education and research. The European Diploma Scheme is not just a concept; it is a living, breathing initiative that is pushing the boundaries of higher education in Europe today.
In closing, I want to emphasize the significance of upholding the long-standing Bologna agreements across more European countries. These agreements are the bedrock upon which the European Diploma scheme stands. Their practical implementation is not only a prerequisite for the European Degree label but also a catalyst for substantial progress. We must never lose sight of the importance of this foundational step in our journey toward a more interconnected and dynamic European education system.
The University of Rijeka has played a pivotal role in leading the FOCI project, and your unwavering dedication is evident. It is through such collaborative efforts and commitment that we can forge a path towards a brighter, more integrated future for European education.
Professor Herman Van Goethem, Ph.D.
Rector of the University of Antwerp