Restructuring Bologna Process in Kurdistan Universities to Promote Student-Centered Learning and Competency-Based Education

Assist Professor Dr. Twana Saadi Hamid
University of Sulaimani


Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play a crucial role in supporting economic growth, creating knowledge-based societies and cultural development. In the meantime, the rapid change of the quality and quantity of skill force in the modern day Kurdistan requires to respond in new ways. Nowadays, knowledge is readily available through digital means from many possible sources. Given the development of digital culture, teachers are also everywhere.
The Countries and areas that apply Bologna Process are characterised by its diversity of political systems, higher education systems, socio-cultural and educational traditions, languages, aspirations and expectations. The main question is to what extent individual countries or even institutions can vary in applying the principles of Bologna Process.
The inception of Bologna Process has been a paradigm shift towards student-centered teaching in European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Kurdistan Region Higher Education Institutions (KHEIs) plan to follow suit. Bologna process has been an opportunity for Kurdistan not only to join the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), but also to update the design of the programmes that have not been updated for decades. The update has paved the way for the inclusion of 21st century soft skills such as Critical Thinking, Team Working, ICT.
Sporadic attempts have started here and there in Kurdistan universities to apply student-centered approach of learning and teaching. However, this shift is neither systematic nor pervasive. Most teachers in (KHEIs) have studied in a teacher-cantered approach and they have not been trained to teach in a student-centered way. Therefore; student-centered teaching is mostly individual attempts motivated by the teachers’ personal urge.
Since the application of Bologna Process is quite new in Kurdistan Universities, therefore the transition from the old process to Bologna is not smooth. Whereas Bologna advocates a flexible
pathway for students and learn in their own preferred styles, the higher education culture is not accustomed to this shift. Moreover, Competency-Based Education in which students should have the right to learn what they want in their own pace, is not integrated in to the curriculum after the adoption of Bologna in (KHEIs). For Competency-Based Education to be applied, there should be alignment amongst competencies required by stake holders, learning modules, pedagogical methods and assessment tools and assessment criteria (Mäntylä and Nisula 2014). Hence, each module in the study programme should contribute to the objectives set for the programme.
As an Associate Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, UK and a Graduate of Implementing a new Pedagogical Model to Modernization of Higher Education from Hame University of Applied Science (Finland), I have the following suggestions to promote tudent-centered learning and competency-based education by re-structuring the Bologna Process in Kurdistan Universities:

  1. Universities should recognize Prior Learning of the students including the recognition of informal learning. This is essential components for ensuring the students’ progress and it is in line with the Principles of the Lisboan Recognition Convention. Unfortunately, there are awful cases in Kurdistan Universities where a learner was required to repeat a non-essential module and pay for it whereas the student had a degree in that area from the same university. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is also a requirement of the Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG 2015). (RPL) can also be implemented for language skills requirement, (see item 4 below for language requirement).
  2. As stated in (ESG 2015), it is important that access policies, admission processes and criteria are implemented consistently and in a transparent manner. Induction to the institution and the programme is provided. This can be done through students-counselling unit in universities. A module is not needed for induction as it negatively affects the learning outcome of the degree programme.
  3. The modules should integrate the skills with the content through relevant learning activities. The skills should align with the objectives of the programme and be relevant to the module. Teachers can incorporate Team-Work or Critical Thinking, for example as soft skills, to the module they teach.
  4. Based on the degree programme, certain English language requirement should be proposed. Students whose English is at or above the required level, should be exempted from the language course. The teaching and assessment of the students’ language proficiency for all degree programmes should be managed by language centres of the universities.
  5. To guarantee that every student’s need with different learning method are met, universities should consider and use different modes of delivery and flexibly use a variety of different pedagogical methods.
  6. The programme should be delivered in such a way to encourage the students to take an active role in creating the learning process. To do so, a scheme can be applied for the students to give feedback to different modules. If the learning outcome of a certain module does not meet certain criteria, it can be modified according to the students’ feedback or even be removed from the programme.
  7. The degree programmes should be reviewed in line with Competency-Based Education to promote work life relevance. This should be clearly stated in the study programme’s goal. The students should be clear in advance what are their choices within and outside their degree programme.
  8. The needs of Kurdistan in general and the needs of local areas should be taken into consideration. Accordingly, new degree programmes can be introduced others can be revamped. For example, given the vast number of cars in Kurdistan region, the universities are required to design a degree programme to train their graduates to be able to repair and maintain these cars. Other stakeholders can be included in this programme such as the businessmen who export cars or the car mechanics who are already active in the labour market.
  9. The universities can also train their students to document the professions that are available in Kurdistan. Most of the professions and the techniques that are inherited from previous generations (mostly by uneducated people) have not been documented. The professions include, but not limited to, farming, livestock. As stated by (Mäntylä and Nisula 2014): The general overview of the curriculum should introduce how the curriculum answer the needs of the local area, how the study programme is profiled, and
    how external stakeholders have been involved in this development process. The general overview also includes the HE institute’s basic mission.
  10. Students can have very different motivations and interests, learning is much more individualized and personalized. Degree programmes should be able to meet the students’ individual requirement. All the student majoring in a programme should not be compelled to sit in for all the same modules. In addition to the core modules in each degree programme, as many relevant options should be available to meet the needs of the students.
  11. An essential part of higher education institutions is an effective Quality Assurance unit. For example, ministers responsible for higher education in the European Higher Education Area in May 2015 adopted Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG 2015) which requires the following parts to supervise the quality of education including the Bologna Action lines:
    i. Internal quality assurance
    ii. External quality assurance
    iii. Quality assurance agencies
    Proper monitoring of the process, including an external independent body such as Quality Assurance Agency in the UK, will improve the Application of the process in Kurdistan universities and increase the chances to achieve the desired aims.
  12. The Post Graduate studies in Kurdistan Universities should be aligned with unified ECTS. For M.A. and MSC studies, 60 ECTS can be allocated to the two semesters and another 60 ECTS for the dissertation. As for Ph.D. studies, 30 ECTS should be given for the taught course that runs before the start of the thesis. Successful completion of the taught course can be used as a prerequisite for starting the thesis.