On 19 June it will be exactly 20 years since the Bologna Declaration was signed. A simple internet search for pictures from the occasion shows that the resulting visual documents are very similar to what you would see if you searched for “Income Declaration” instead of “Bologna Declaration”. There are surely many reasons for the lack of visibility of that moment, but it speaks volumes in any case. The Bologna Declaration and the resulting process was thought up over a long period of time and, simply put, it was a roadmap for European universities that could sometimes be translated as a spreadsheet.
The exchange of knowledge through credits brought about a dynamic of convergence between higher-education centres that was supposed to allow greater internationalization and the exchange of higher numbers of university students. At the same time, key objectives included adapting universities to new learning processes, the social demands of the time and employment competitiveness. Two decades later, now that it has been implemented in all universities in Europe and there is no going back, certain aspects can be criticized and successes pointed out but, in our opinion, the Bologna Declaration is now a kind of Shadow Revolution, which is not necessarily meant to have a negative connotation. Over this period, universities have made an effort to project a silhouette of excellence, competence and genuineness in the light of the institution’s management and knowledge. Some of these shadows have been more vague and elusive while others are striking clear; but from a prospective viewpoint, these outlines start to reveal what universities need to generate from within in the coming years.
Just like the mobile phone, the Bologna Declaration has been surpassed by the operation of the device itself, by the actions performed through it and, above all, by its current social use. The system vigorously calls for the revolution that this process began without ruling out particular corrective measures. And acceptance that the student body is not only at the centre of learning but also that, daring though it may sound, learning itself is a reflection of social change. The fact that the December 2006 cover of Time Magazine was not dedicated to a person or even a machine but instead the pronoun “You” is symptomatic of this. It may be a boutade of the times but, in any case, it is a boutade that should not be underestimated. Individuals as the creators and receivers of their dialogue with their surroundings have gained ground from institutions, companies and machines. This effect of individual prominence establishes continuity with the education system.
The student body is, nowadays, a more active agent than ever before. It needs to interact and realize to become realized. It needs reflection but it also requires action. This personalized use of receiving and creating, acquiring knowledge, but also generating it, is calling out for an escape from the system’s linearity and uniformity. The Shadow Revolution is followed by the Corporeal Revolution, capable of articulating movements and deploying dynamics. Initiatives such as those that several universities are carrying out (such as Stanford 2025 at Stanford, Tec21 at Tecnológico de Monterrey, BSM’s Manifesto and EDvolució at UPF) advocate open learning paths, a personalized experience, where students can follow transversal rhizomatic paths over time to ensure an ongoing education and a perennial (perhaps inseparable) link between the learning environment and the professional environment. The Corporeal Revolution should make it possible to recognize the identities, values and multiple talents of each individual at singular universities that also create singular students. The innovative transformation that has been tenaciously undertaken in preuniversity education would be in vain if higher-education centres incomprehensibly move towards the homogenization of institutions and, indirectly, create uniformity among the student body. We expect that, in the best-case scenario, those who go to university in the future will be able to construct their own curriculum, obviously guided by the faculty. And they will be able to think of the position they want to be in in the future and be able to generate movement from that space.
If students define themselves as creators and creative, the faculty must be imagined that way too. As part of this new revolution, teaching staff no longer only give classes, they catalyse and orchestrate additive (and sometimes addictive) dynamics: knowledge management, detection and development of talent, innovation, development, project creation, international networks, social transfer, etc. They undoubtedly require skills to turn them into jugglers of knowledge and that which is peripheral. Because in these revolutionary educational models, other knowledge communities are springing up around universities, which interact with and complement what happens in the classrooms. Public institutions, companies, NGOs, ex-alumni, etc. Collaboration between the agents in the quadruple helix is, nowadays, an inescapable part of the new knowledge paradigm. This fact must necessarily relax spaces and learning, which must be adapted to the flexibility and versatility sought by both these adjacent communities and the new teaching methodologies.
When it comes down to it, there is no revolution without writing on the wall. In this case, the style guide of these new education models should be written on the walls of institutions and agencies that measure the rigorousness and quality of teaching. Evidently, the size of a country is measured by the prestige of its knowledge centres, among other factors. So it is necessary for quality agencies not to smother the movement of many universities and their individuals, not to hold back the Corporeal Revolution and to hack themselves from within, otherwise we will be condemned to mediocrity and the neutralization of a system that is very far from society’s needs.
Professor of Communication