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Educación Médica

Print version ISSN 1575-1813

Educ. méd. vol.15 n.2  Jun. 2012




The Counter-Reformation to the Bologna process

La contrarreforma al proceso de Bolonia



Arcadi Gual, Jordi Palés-Argullós, Maria Nolla-Domenjó, Albert Oriol-Bosch

Facultad de Medicina; Universitat de Barcelona (A. Gual, J. Palés-Argullós). Fundación Educación Médica, FEM (A. Gual, J. Palés-Argullós, M. Nolla-Domenjó, A. Oriol-Bosch). Fundación Dr. Robert; Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (M. Nolla-Domenjó). Barcelona, España.




The Bologna process is an important educational migration that is undoubtedly putting faculties of medicine to the test. The Fundación Educación Médica is aware of this fact and two years ago launched a series of articles aimed at highlighting the basic elements that make up the radical change which had been started from above (the regulatory authorities) without those below (the academic institutions that must implement it) either wanting it or taking part in it. For this and other reasons it is to be expected that sooner or later a certain amount of resistance will arise that causes us to miss out on this opportunity to change.

The Bologna process establishes the need to focus education on learners [1] and orient them towards obtaining a set of defined outcomes [2], thereby departing from the traditional disciplinary approach. According to Bologna, the educational process no longer comes to an end when the candidate has gathered all the pieces of the curricular "mosaic" in the hope that he or she will know how to fit them together again. The educational process, as envisaged by Bologna, defines the characteristics of the product in terms of previously established measurable competencies rather than by considering the amount of disciplinary knowledge that has been amassed. Likewise, the instruction given by the teacher is understood as just an instrument that acts as a learning aid for the student, who is aware of the goals to be reached and plays a leading role in the construction of his or her new professional identity.

Everything needs to be changed in order to enter the Bologna "galaxy" and this, without a doubt, is a cause for alarm within the academic establishment, which, throughout the whole of the 20th century, has staunchly managed to hold out against the calls for change without suffering any damage to its social prestige or its institutional control. Members of the teaching profession who have a "lifelong right to occupy their position" (what they themselves euphemistically call "with full teaching and research capacity"), despite being aware of the need for an educational change, will not be able to avoid feeling that in this process they are losing the institutional centrality and discretional nature of their academic power. Such a perception will be unavoidable as the student becomes the institutional centre and accomplishing a product as a whole prevails over the disciplinary parts of its cognitive components. Something will have to be invented so that, in the Bologna process, the established order can be maintained while at the same time keeping up the appearance of progress.

Nothing is more effective for defending one's interests than distorting reality. If the Bologna process is written off as a process that is imposed and unnecessary, the benefits of which have still to be proved, then all that remains to be done is to sit such a standpoint upon an attractive idea. This idea will undoubtedly be that of "academic freedom" - something that has been so ill-treated in the past due to ecclesiastical dogmatism or that of ideological or political dictatorships. To date, in its name it has been possible to keep the necessary changes down to mere cosmetic changes that do not alter the academic statu quo. In the name of academic freedom it is not usually so much a question of defending freedom of thought as of freedom to act, which is to be understood as the resistance to any institutional regulation that is considered could have a detrimental effect on the acquired rights of those permanently entitled to a particular teaching position 1.

One must be prepared so that, under the banner of academic freedom, difficulties may crop up in any of the steps that have to be taken in order to advance in the Bologna process. The day-to-day workings of the teaching committees may be hindered in the process of coordinating tasks to reach goals that require sharing responsibilities on an interdisciplinary basis. It will be impossible to produce the necessarily consensual documents that are to serve as a guide allowing students know what is expected of them. It will be claimed that only teachers with recognised full capacity have the personal and non-transferable authority to assess and that they alone know and are able to evaluate the achievements attained in their discipline. It will be claimed that the assessment of "everything", of competencies, is something that has not been shown to be feasible, that cannot replace evaluation by the person responsible for the subject and that, additionally, he or she cannot neglect his or her mandatory responsibility without breaking the law.

In sum, it is foreseeable (and due to the human condition, inevitable) that a movement calling for a Counter-Reformation to the Bologna process will appear and attract the backing of some distinguished figures with a lifelong right to certain subjects/disciplines. These venerable figures will speak of great ideas to be preserved (academic freedom) and also the great perils to be avoided (uncertainties) of what has not been proved. The regulator will be powerless to offset a closed front of the hoary figures of the teaching guild, while those who have seen in Bologna a way to finally overcome the restrictions of the 19th century, which the university got bogged down in during the last century, will look on sadly as yet another chance to rise to meet the times is missed.

This editorial has been published a year earlier than planned, with the intention of its acting as a sign to warn and rally those who think that Bologna cannot be allowed to pass by without consequences. It is not intended to be a forecast without alternatives, but rather a call to mobilise those who believe in Bologna and who want to contribute to the necessary progress that is expected of universities, which today makes the Bologna process essential.


1The lifelong entitlement to a given teaching position after passing the required exams, as has traditionally been regulated in Spain, is something very different to the career stability offered by a permanent contract with the university, which is known as tenure in English-speaking countries. This administrative issue will need to be analysed some time due to the impact it has on the institutional sociology of the university and the evolution of the educational process.



Arcadi Gual Sala.
Departamento de Ciencias Fisiológicas I.
Facultad de Medicina.
Universitat de Barcelona.
Casanova, 143.
E-08036 Barcelona.

Conflict of interests: None declared.



1. Prat-Corominas J, Palés-Argullós J, Nolla-Domenjó M, Oriol-Bosch A, Gual A. Proceso de Bolonia (II): educación centrada en el que aprende. Educ Med 2010; 13: 197-203.         [ Links ]

2. Pales-Argullós J, Nolla-Domenjó M, Oriol-Bosch A, Gual J. Proceso de Bolonia (I): educación orientada a competencias. Educ Med 2010; 13: 127-35.         [ Links ]

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