The Bologna Process

This page has been prepared to provide an overview of some of the important issues for mathematical sciences arising from the Bologna Process and the Council for the Mathematical Sciences’ work in this area. It does not aim to provide a comprehensive description of all aspects of the process – links to other sites and reports are provided for further information.

NEW - May 2009 - An update on some more recent Bologna developments can be found here

What is the Bologna Process?
The Bologna Process is an agreement of 46 Education Ministers in Europe to work towards a common framework for Higher Education, in order to encourage movement of students across Europe and to make it easier for employers to understand what graduates’ degrees mean. The Bologna Process has no legal force in the UK. Nonetheless, many regard being compatible with the Bologna Process to have distinct advantages.

Useful links

How does the Bologna Process develop?
The Bologna process is carried forward by biennial Ministerial meetings. The next is in Belgium in 2009.

The Bologna With Student Eyes survey is conducted by the European Students’ Union every two years in preparation for the Ministerial Summits. It demonstrates the level of implementation that the Process has achieved across Europe and lays out the needs and demands of students across the continent and can be a useful corrective to the official views of the process.

The European Universities Association is an organisation which, though formally operating as a conference of vice-chancellors, has become an effective representative of the academic community within the Bologna process. It commissions ‘Trends’ reports every two years which inform the ministerial meetings, which can be downloaded from the EUA website.
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What has the CMS been doing?
Council for the Mathematical Sciences Report on the Bologna Process, 2006

This report drew attention, among other things, to difficulties in the conversion between ECTS and UK Credits (CATS), the tension between learning outcomes and nominal numbers of hours worked; the lack of funding for Second Cycle (Master’s) qualifications other than Integrated Master’s; and the fact the Integrated Master’s degrees only just met the minimum requirements for Second Cycle qualifications.

The main recommendations were:
1. All Integrated Master’s programmes in the UK should include 120 CATS credits [one academic year’s worth] of M level material, which can if necessary be split between Years 3 and 4 (Years 4 and 5 in Scotland). The final two years of the programme should remain as academic years, totalling 240 CATS credits, neither being extended to a calendar year.
2. Institutions should make a dual award (First and Second Cycles) at the end of four years (five years in Scotland), such as BSc.MMath, with a single classification. The years of the degree programme on which this classification is based can vary between institutions, but must include the final two years.
3. One calendar year (full-time) 180 CATS credits Master’s programmes should continue to operate as now, with a minimum of 120 CATS credits of M level material. Part-time programmes with the same number of credits should continue to be taken over a correspondingly longer period.

The Report also welcomed a move to learning outcomes as the primary measure of the level of a qualification, as envisaged in the European Qualifications Framework, and noted that the Dublin Descriptors do broadly apply to existing Integrated Master’s and Master’s qualifications in the UK.

The Select Committee Report highlighted the following:

Written evidence to the Select Committee from the CMS, HoDoMS and many others, and indeed oral evidence from, for example Prof Ella Ritchie (VC Newcastle), highlighted in addition the following:

The Government response to the Select Committee Report does not touch on funding of second cycle since the Select Committee Report does not mention it.

On ECTS and related matters the Government response states:

As there is widespread agreement within the Bologna Process of the importance of learning outcomes, the Government has raised this issue with the Commission, including the 75 ECTS per calendar year reference in the User’s Guide, and emphasised the need to revisit the underlying approach of the system so that ECTS better reflects learning outcomes rather than simply the hours of study and student workload. The Government would not however agree that learning outcomes alone should provide the basis for the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, but would argue that there needs to be a better balance between learning outcomes, workload and levels so that ECTS is better able to function as an accumulation system.

On the future of Master’s and Integrated Master’s:

Nevertheless, the Government is aware that there continue to be concerns about the compatibility of one year Masters and four-year integrated Masters with the Bologna Process. The Government however is clear that such concerns are unfounded. Provided that 12 month taught Masters and four-year integrated Masters courses meet the Bologna requirements for learning outcomes and credit ranges, there is no reason to suggest that they cannot be compatible with the Bologna principles.

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Qualifications Frameworks
There is an overarching Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area, agreed at the ministerial summit in 2005.

Several countries have, or are developing, their own Qualifications Frameworks to comply with this. These include the UK, or rather England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the Framework is the responsibility of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA); and Scotland where it is the responsibility of the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

There is a complex process of ‘self-certification’ which the national frameworks must undergo to fit in with the overarching EHEA Framework (see
This has been completed for Scotland and for (the Republic of) Ireland and in March 2009 the QAA announced that the self-certification process for the Framework for England, Wales and Northern Ireland was complete.

The FHEQ attempts to set out the attributes of the various levels of qualification, in such a way as to apply to all disciplines in terms of, for example, ‘ Master’s degrees are awarded to students who have demonstrated the following.....’ , that is, in terms of ‘learning outcomes’ from programmes of study.

Key issues for mathematical sciences
A review of the FHEQ has taken the form of ‘round table discussion meetings’ (see and - the CMS has been actively participating in these.

It is generally accepted in the MSOR community that the current FHEQ is unrealistic for our discipline. HoDoMS made a submission to the review of the FHEQ commenting on the relative appropriateness of the FHEQ and the Dublin Descriptors, and this is available at under ‘Presentations and Documents’. The updated FHEQ for England Wales and Northern Ireland now includes the Dublin Descriptors as an annex.

The Dublin Descriptors are the learning outcomes of the overarching Framework for Qualifications in the EHEA. The wording of these Descriptors is thought to be broadly compatible with the relevant mathematical sciences degrees.

The CMS has endorsed responses to the QAA’s consultation on the draft second edition of the FHEQ for EWNI from HoDoMS and the MSOR Benchmarking Group, which explain the difficulties in the FHEQ descriptors.

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Last Updated: Tuesday 8 January 2019