Ask Anna: What is the Bologna Process?

By StudyLink

This month I’m looking at the topic of the Bologna Process, which is a series of agreements made between various European countries specially made to ensure common standards, quality and comparability of higher education qualifications. The Bologna Process was launched in June 1999 when ministers from 29 European countries signed a declaration highlighting the 10 main action lines and goals of the Bologna Process. Some of the most important aims include establishing a system of easily comparable degrees, creating a system based on 2 cycles (undergraduate and postgraduate), establishing a system of credits and encouraging mobility.

The Bologna Process encourages mobility by providing common tools for universities across Europe. Some of the most important tools include European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, also known as ECTS (which I covered a couple of months ago) and the Diploma Supplement. The Bologna Process makes sure that all periods of study taken abroad are recognized.

How Does the Bologna Process Affect Me?

The Bologna Process increases the opportunities for studying abroad, as well as making it possible to study at several different universities in Europe to make a degree. It also means that your study abroad experience can span multiple languages and cultures, something that will only make you stronger as a candidate upon graduation. The Bologna Process also allows for academics to move more freely between universities, making the teaching experience more diverse amongst European institutions.


The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is one of the most important tools recognized by the Bologna Process. It plays a key role in curriculum design and validating learning achievements.

In the ECTS, credits reflect the total workload required to achieve the programme’s objectives. All objectives are carefully specified in the programme and they can relate to learning, reading, academic writing, lab research, and more. ECTS make all study programmes easy to compare.
Typically, one academic year has 60 credits within the ECTS. Students are often eligible to participate in other academic activities for additional ECTS, but 60 credits per year is a common standard. Read my previous article for more advice on the ECTS.

The Diploma Supplement

The Diploma Supplement (compulsory for all graduates since 2005) is a tool attached to a higher education diploma. It describes the degree qualification in a brief and understandable way. It is intended to give a standardised description of the level, content and status of a successfully completed study.

The Degrees

The Bologna Process recognizes two basic degrees: Bachelor and Master. These were common in many countries but the Bologna Process makes sure that they are available in all participating countries. If a country has a different system traditionally, the old degrees are used parallel to Bachelor and Masters during the transition period.

Bachelor degree. Typically, a Bachelor degree requires between 180 and 240 ETS credits. This corresponds to 3 or 4 years of study respectively.
Master degree. A Master degree requires minimum of 60 ECTS credits (one year), although most Master programmes require between 90 and 120 ECTS credits (corresponding to 1.5 or 2 years of study respectively).

The organization of Bachelor and Master studies is not strictly defined to allow flexibility. Therefore, certain universities and programmes can have a 3+2 system (3 years for a Bachelor degree (180 ECTS) and additional two years (120 ECTS) for a Master degree), while others can have different systems, for example 4+1 (4 years for a Bachelor degree (240 ECTS) and one additional year (60 ECTS) for a Master degree).

It’s also worth noting that the third cycle (European PhD programme) is often not defined by ECTS credits, though some universities use ECTS for their PhD programmes. Typically, PhD studies last for 3 years (for the additional 180 ECTS beyond a Master degree).

European universities have reached the implementation phase of the Bologna Process, so there are an increasing number of graduates who have been awarded these new degrees.

It was necessary for many countries to make substantial changes to their existing degree systems in order to accommodate the Bologna Process. Sometimes, this implementation has led to problems and obstacles. The universities were required to adapt to the new system of degrees, which also comprised of different expectations toward students as well as changed curriculums.

You can find out more about studying in Europe in our study in Europe directory, and you can read our advice on student visas. Good luck in your studies and bye for now!

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