Bologna Process Initiatives
One of the key action lines set out by the 1999 Bologna Declaration was the adoption of a
system based on two cycles, a cycle being one of the sequential
levels within which higher education qualifications are located.
The two cycles identified were
- the undergraduate Bachelor's level, lasting a minimum of three
years and needing to be completed in order to access the second
- the graduate Master's level.
It was further decided that the degree awarded after the first
cycle would be recognised as a qualification in the European labour
market, while the second cycle would be awarded with a master
and/or doctorate degree, as had already been the case in several
European countries. This marked a fundamental change insofar as
prior to 1999, the majority of higher education programmes across
Europe were not organised according to a three-cycle-structure.
The Ministerial Summit in Berlin
(2003) was the first time a third cycle of higher education -
beyond the initial two - was considered, and with that came talk of
closer integration between the European Higher Education Area
(EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA).
Following the Berlin Ministerial Summit, a further action line in
was accordingly added: Doctoral
studies and the synergy between the EHEA and the ERA
The Bergen Communiqué (2005) then implemented
these considerations in the form of an overarching European
qualifications framework of the EHEA which featured the now common
generic framework with three cycles:
- At least three full-time equivalent academic years, typically
carrying 180 to 240 ECTS credit points
- generally referred to as the Bachelor cycle, although it also
includes 'short' programmes such as the Foundation Degree, and
'intermediate' programmes such as the DipHE and the HND
- typically carries 90-120 ECTS, with a minimum of 60 credits at
the level of the second cycle (i.e. the Master cycle)
- the doctoral, typically not credit-rated
Related EU initiatives
The European Union supports the Europe-wide implementation of the
three-cycle-system. Given that the implementation is the
responsibility of the single member states, there are no
directly related EU initiatives.
The three-cycle framework introduced by the Bologna process was
essentially based on the system already in place in the UK - the UK
therefore had a unique position within the EHEA. Similarly, the
English-language terminology to refer to the different degrees has
been widely adopted across Europe. However, some substantial
differences remain: while the term 'Master', for instance, is used
in many different systems for the second cycle degree, it is not
the case that these degrees are also all structurally the same.
Indeed, the MA programmes vary considerably across Europe as there
is no one single model.