A Bologna perspective: Opportunities and challenges for higher education in the Kurdistan region

Prof. Dr Ann Katherine Isaacs, University of Pisa

Co-Chair, Coordination Group on Global Policy Dialogue, Bologna Follow Up Group (BFUG)
Co-Chair, Bologna Implementation Coordination Group, BFUG
Vice-Chair of the BFUG (2018-2020)
Higher Education Expert for UNESCO’s TVET1 and TVET2 projects in KRG and Federal Iraq


The ‘Bologna Process’ has been an area of interest for Kurdish universities for several years. Many have participated in projects designed to develop certain aspects of university reform, some of which directly related to the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna ‘commitments’.

The initial inspiration for the Bologna Declaration (1999) was to facilitate mobility and recognition of studies among countries having very different higher education systems. International agreement was intended to make it possible for students to circulate among the universities of the European countries that were willing to implement radical changes so that their systems shared certain number of common structural elements. The end objective was to improve the quality of higher education and facilitate employability of graduates. To a large degree this has been accomplished in the 47 countries now members of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). This area is the result of the loose intergovernmental cooperation set up on the basis of the Bologna Declaration in 1999 and the further agreements made every two or three years since then, most recently in Rome (2020).

In other world macro-regions, in part because of the example of the EHEA and in part as a response to similar needs and aspirations, similar agreements have been made. These include the African Union, parts of Latin America, ASEAN (through the ASEM process), and MENA for the Middle Eastern macro-region. The EHEA (the Bologna area) promotes, through its Coordination Group on Global Policy Dialogue, global dialogue on themes of common interest with respect to higher education, and is organizing a Global Policy Forum to be held with the next Conference of the higher education Ministers of the EHEA countries, to be held in late spring, 2024.

UNESCO has long worked to promote global collaboration in Higher Education: two recent landmarks are the UNESCO Global Recognition Convention and the recent World Higher Education Conference, held in Barcelona.

In this framework we will examine the potential benefits of alignment with the ‘Bologna’ commitments for the higher education institutions of the Kurdistan Region, and the challenges they face. Emphasis will be on the ongoing nature of the process: on the fact that the basics (the Qualifications Framework, ECTS according to the ECTS Users’ Guide, 2015 edition, the Lisbon Recognition Convention and the Diploma Supplement, Quality Assurance in line with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area [ESG]) are indeed the ‘basics’, but today much more is both necessary in order to comply with ‘Bologna’, and possible, thanks to the many tools which have been developed for creating student-centered, output- and competence-based degree programmes, new quality and governance models, the social dimension of higher education, university autonomy, fundamental values, and many other aspects.

The complex nature of the changes needed in order to utilize fully the potential of the Kurdish higher education institutions will be underlined. These require clarity of purpose, government support, but also the commitment and hard work of the universities themselves. Important tools are available or can be adapted, such as the TVQF and the TVET Accreditation Manual, produced in UNESCO’s TVET1 project. The KR Polytechnics, are participating in UNESCO’s TVET2 project, developing according to Bologna, ECTS and Tuning methodologies new competence-based Bachelor Degree Programmes, and Quality Plans, showing how in practice such programmes can be implemented.

Realistic strategic considerations of how to move forward are necessary. The quality and visibility of the KR HEIs, their compatibility with other world regions, and the hard work necessary to achieve the goals of excellence and relevance in the current global HE picture will be examined.