It is 10 years since the largest EU enlargement wave (sometimes referred to as “EU Big Bang Expansion”) and 15 years since the formal beginning of the Bologna Process. The former Yugoslavia countries provide an interesting example of integration of the “new member states” in the Europe of Knowledge. Slovenia entered the EU in 2004 and Croatia joined last year. The other ex-YU countries are in various accession stages: Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidate countries, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are considered potential candidates. All have been participating in the Bologna Process (Slovenia from the beginning, Croatia as of 2001, others as of 2003), apart from Kosovo whose lack of participation is linked to its disputed statehood.
While there are some differences in formal positions with regards to the EU and the Bologna Process, the countries of former Yugoslavia are similar in terms of their limited influence in shaping European higher education initiatives, with Slovenia being somewhat of an exception yet seemingly not very successful or very interested in uploading particular policy preferences to the European level (Vukasovic 2014; Vukasovic and Elken 2013). What is also common is that the European dimension is very present in domestic policy making in all sectors, including higher education and the processes of EU accession and implementation of the Bologna Declaration (and subsequent documents) are very closely linked.
The latter is, at the first glance, somewhat unexpected, given that the acquis communautaire does not include any specific requirements with regards to higher education. At the second glance, one needs to recall that the EU cooperation in the area of higher education and the Bologna Process are closely intertwined (Corbett 2011; Keeling 2006) and that the lack of explicit EU competences in an area does not mean lack of domestic impact of the EU (Gornitzka 2009). In addition, as in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in the countries of the former Yugoslavia there is a strong presence of a “return to Europe” narrative (Héritier 2005) in relation to social, political and economic transition. Many reforms were, for one reason or another, framed in relation to European initiatives, and this is in particular the case for higher education.
Apart from implementing the so-called Bologna guidelines – such as those related to the degree structure, use of a credit transfer and accumulation system, ratification of the Council of Europe Lisbon Recognition Convention or setting up a national and institutional quality assurance system in line with the European standards and guidelines (ESG) – the countries have also introduced (with varying degrees of success and support) changes that are not “covered by Bologna” but which were nevertheless part of the Bologna package of changes in legislation or other policy instruments. These include: a more integrated approach to internal governance of universities, financing of higher education (including introduction or increase of tuition fees), as well as changes in the relationship between the university and non-university sector, criteria for establishing private higher education and criteria for promotion of academic staff (Branković et al. 2014).
Interpreting and implementing European norms and values
Some of these changes, while not being explicitly part of the Bologna Process nevertheless have a European label. For example, through its Institutional Evaluation Programme the European University Association (EUA) has been effectively promoting integration of universities in the countries of former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the EU’s TEMPUS programme, through which a total of €150 million poured in the region from 1992 to 2006 (Dolenec et al. 2014), promoted changes in some of the aforementioned aspects through setting up priorities for funded projects. However, it is not all about the “power of the purse”; such projects also provide an opportunity for mobility of students and staff and, therefore, an opportunity for persuasion of the domestic actors into desirability and appropriateness of European norms and values (see Checkel 2003 on ‘going native’ and socialization in European institutions). That of course does not mean that the attitudes towards these European norms and values are uniformly positive, though the presence of negative attitudes seems to be primarily linked to the domestic interpretations and problems in implementation and not so much to the ideological core of Bologna or related EU initiatives (Zgaga et al. 2013).
In sum, in the former Yugoslavia the European integration in higher education 10 years after the largest enlargement wave and 15 years after the Bologna Ministerial Conference has amounted to a complex combination of (a) Europeanization – a top-down process in which Europe provides a model for particular aspects of higher education, (b) cross-national policy transfer – horizontal process in which Europe provides a communication platform and (c) the so-called re-nationalization of Bologna in which the European processes are used to legitimize existing domestic policy preferences (Vukasovic 2014). With regards to its effects, the notion of differential integration and “Europe of several speeds” exists in higher education as well, as a result of institutional legacies, vested interests, domestic translations and challenges in implementation (Westerheijden et al. 2010; Witte 2006). While both the complexity of integration and variety of its effects is evident in the so-called “old-EU” as well, the specificity of the former Yugoslav countries is the lack of the so-called “uploading-noise”: the relationship between the European and the national level in these countries is more clearly a top-down one. Whether it will remain as such remains to be seen.
Martina Vukasovic is a postdoc researcher in the Centre for Higher Education Governance Ghent (CHEGG) at the Department of Sociology, Ghent University. Her research focuses on the interaction between European, national and organizational processes, primarily the emergence of the European governance layer and how it may affect changes of policy and organization in higher education, in particular in the post-Communist countries. Until recently, she was involved in a large scale research project on European integration in higher education and research in the Western Balkans, coordinated by the University of Oslo (the Higher Education: Institutional Dynamics and Knowledge Cultures research group, HEIK).
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