The Bologna Process calls for the introduction of a three-cycle system (often called bachelor, master, doctorate). This means more than cutting traditional study programmes in two or three parts. It is an invitation to re-think the content of learning, to make pedagogy more student-centred and to consider whether a given programme of study adequately addresses the needs of graduates; as well as to consider whether graduates will acquire the knowledge, skills and competences they need to succeed in an ever-changing labour market.
Universities have begun to describe their modules and study programmes not only in terms of inputs, such as teaching hours or text books, but also in terms of outputs, i.e. learning outcomes: what students know, understand and can do after a process of learning. For this, universities find references in National Qualifications Frameworks, which describe the learning outcomes expected at each level. National Qualifications Frameworks are in turn linked to the overarching European frameworks: the Framework for Qualifications in the European Higher Education Area of Bologna (three cycles) and the EU European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF), which encompasses eight levels, ranging from basic skills to advanced research competences.
The new language of learning outcomes is gradually being introduced across the entire life cycle of learning, from curriculum development to teaching, learning, assessment, recognition and quality assurance.
At the subject area level, universities may draw inspiration from the Erasmus project ‘Tuning Educational Structures in Europe’, a university initiative which defines learning outcomes and competences at different levels for a series of disciplines and cross-disciplinary fields, such as history, mathematics or European studies. The Tuning descriptors may help to define Sectoral Qualifications Frameworks in the years ahead.
So far, hundreds of universities across Europe have set up partnerships to carry out Erasmus Curriculum Development projects, often resulting in joint or double degree programmes, for example the European Joint Master Programme in Human Rights and Genocide studies.
Dozens of Erasmus Networks function as ‘think tanks’ for a given discipline or theme, defining quality standards and translating societal needs into recommendations for curricular innovation. These aim in particular to ensure that teaching standards reflect cutting edge research.
The University-Business Forum, established by the Commission in 2008, provides a platform for dialogue on curriculum reform, continuing education, mobility, entrepreneurship, knowledge and governance. The most innovative ideas in these fields may be supported as Erasmus University-Enterprise Cooperation Projects.
The Commission supports university action to modernise doctoral programmes, involving stakeholders from the industry. Growing numbers of mobile researchers, and in particular doctoral candidates, receive support under the Marie Curie Actions, Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).