University Education in the United States of Europe

Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño. Dean. IE Business School

27 October 2006

The Bologna Agreement will introduce far-reaching changes to the European system of higher education, resulting in greater cross-border mobility, tougher credentials and more competitive universities. Spain is well positioned to benefit.

The Bologna Agreement gives rise to one of Europe’s largest integration challenges in recent years. The basic objective of this agreement is to standardise university training criteria all over Europe, with the introduction of qualifications that are similar to those of the Anglo-Saxon model: Three or four years for an undergraduate degree and one to two years for a Master’s degree. Hopefully, the final outcome will result in greater cross-border mobility of both students and professors, as well as a diffusion of knowledge that transcends national borders. This will ultimately lead to an increase in competition between universities, thus enhancing the quality of education. The Bologna Agreement is set to go into effect in 2010 which means that in a few years time we will be able to talk about the ‘United States of Europe’-- at least in regard to higher education.

The Bologna Agreement marks the globalisation of university education. Those who have the highest stake in this change (administrators, students, teachers, employers etc.) are all officially in favour of the change. They are also aware of how important this could be for European universities on the international market because until now these same universities left almost no mark abroad.

There are two great pitfalls to avoid when implementing the Bologna Agreement: on the one hand, the excess of regulations dictating university activity and, on the other, the lack of legislation governing the process. One must not make the idea of common good or public interest synonymous with the idea that all suppliers must necessarily be public institutions. For this same reason, the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science for the last two years has been drafting regulations in line with other European countries regarding the activities of private institutions and aimed at introducing greater innovation in university curricula.

The future competitiveness of Spanish universities in the new post-Bologna scenario of European university training looks bright. Objectively, Spain is one of the countries with the greatest potential for attracting foreign students. Last year, for the first time, Spanish universities were the destination for the largest number of Erasmus Fellows in Europe, exceeding Germany, which had led the field until then. In addition, this year, Spain has become the leading destination for foreign students from North American colleges, in this case beating out France. There is no doubt that there is a number of factors that make Spain a very attractive destination for foreign students: the language, which ranks third in importance in the business world and fourth on the Internet; the good weather; historical tradition; Spain’s increasingly good image abroad; and the fact that our country is historically a geographical crossroad for a variety of cultures.

Both universities and the different administrations—local, regional and central-- should assess as very positive the possibility of attracting a growing number of foreign students to higher-training programmes in Spain. The United Kingdom represents a very interesting reference point. There, 20% of post-graduate university students are foreign, representing a significant influx of foreign currencies for the sector--and for the economy in general--as well as greater cultural diversity and an improved student profile. Accordingly, it would be very beneficial if Spanish administrations became more proactive in awarding study and work visas for non-Community foreign students, especially when we bear in mind that, at least until the year 2010, the number of Spanish students in classrooms will fall due to changing demographics.

Within the new framework of university training in Europe, international quality certification agencies will play an essential role, together with national quality certification agencies. In the area of business schools, for example, the most recognized certification systems on our continent are EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and AMBA (Association of MBAs). So far, five Spanish institutions have been recognized by both systems and this number is bound to increase in the coming years. There is no doubt that the future for Spanish institutions for higher education looks very positive as long as the administration and the universities themselves act with forethought and adopt the required measures.

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