Degree structure in Europe
The European national higher education systems have or are introducing a three-cycle degree structure. This means that students first complete a Bachelor's programme, the first cycle, and with that Bachelor's degree they can be admitted to a Master's programme, the second cycle. The third cycle is the Doctoral programme.
This degree structure is the result of the "Bologna Process", in which 46 European countries participate in order to create the European Higher Education Area by 2010.
The identification of the first and second cycle programmes, as put forward by the Bologna Declaration (1999), was the first step towards developing an overarching qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area. By creating this initial division between cycles the first elements of a qualifications framework were established.
All European countries necessarily have a system of higher education that includes an understanding of the roles of higher education, of higher education institutions, and of various stakeholders, such as learners, staff in higher education institutions, and social partners. The elements of such national higher education systems are often formally defined, however there may be many aspects of higher education systems that are not precisely defined but are understood within the society in which they operate. Within higher education systems, higher education qualifications themselves are a key element and are often not clearly separated in their definition from the programmes of study leading to them.
In recent years, there has been an increasing national and international debate on higher education qualifications, and in particular how they are organised, recognised and related to each other on national and trans-national bases. In particular, the emerging developments within the Bologna Process have been key factors in stimulating such debates.
Emerging from this debate has been recognition of the need to have a specific policy focus on the higher education qualifications attained by learners who have successfully participated in programmes of various types. the single description, at national level or level of an education system, which is internationally understood and through which all qualifications and other learning achievements in higher education may be described and related to each other in a coherent way and which defines the relationship between higher education qualifications.
In simple terms a national framework of higher education qualifications is defined here as:
the single description, at national level or level of an education system, which is internationally understood and through which all qualifications and other learning
achievements in higher education may be described and related to each other in a coherent way and which defines the relationship between higher education
(Source: a qualification framework for the European Higher Education Area)