Multidimensional transparency tools 2009-2012

Transparency Tools across the European Higher Education Area 2012 - cover

Working Group on Transparency Tools 2009-2012

The purpose of the working group is to monitor and analyse the development of the transparency tools and mechanisms, both the purposes and the objectives (information, accountability, quality) and the indicators and criteria used (input/processes, output/outcome) and to make a report to the 2012 ministerial conference.

Transparency Tools across the European Higher Education Area - report 2012


Logo U-Multirank


On 2 June 2009 the European Commission announced the launching of a feasibility study to develop a multi-dimensional global university ranking.
Its aims were to "look into the feasibility of making a multi-dimensional ranking of universities in Europe, and possibly the rest of the world too".

U-Multirank final report

Readers interested in a fuller treatment of many of the topics covered in this report are referred to the project website.

At the 3rd Annual Symposium on University Rankings and Quality Assurance in Europe 2011, participants analyzied the latest findings of the U-Multirank project and considered the challenges that lie ahead in creating a comprehensive system that encompasses rankings, quality assurance systems and standards. Participants explored the barriers that must be overcome in order to achieve the vision of creating a European Higher Education Area with a robust framework to improve the comparative quality of universities across Europe and their ability to compete in a global market.

Definition and Bologna history

The Bologna Process acknowledges that one of the biggest assets of European higher education is its diversity. The Sorbonne Joint Declaration argues for diversity in the service of society: "we owe our students and our society at large, a higher education system in which they are given the best opportunities to seek and find their own area of excellence."

The Prague Communiqué (2001) makes this normative more explicit: "programmes leading to a degree may, and indeed should, have different orientations and various profiles in order to accommodate a diversity of individual, academic and labour market needs."

The Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué (2009) specifies that not only the diversity of study programmes is a response of the higher education institutions to the needs of the society, but the HEI's themselves are responsive to the wider needs of the society through the diversity of their missions.

Coordinating a diverse system requires vision and sensitiveness to subtleties in issuing judgements on the degree in which a higher education institution or a study programme is reaching its societal purpose. In order to overcome the oversimplifying approach "one size fits all", the ministers committed in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve (2009) to "uphold the highly valued diversity of our education systems" in their strive to create a EHEA whose basic principles include quality and transparency, as stated in the Bergen Communiqué (2005). This normative will be realized through public policies which will "fully recognize the value of various missions of higher education, ranging from teaching and research to community services and engagement in social cohesion and cultural development", as explained in the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué (2009).

The Bologna Process has always been concerned with making the diversity of the EHEA more transparent. Quality assurance, qualifications framework and recognition, together with the tools designed to facilitate their implementation, such as Diploma Supplement, ECTS and Lisbon Recognition Convention, have contributed substantially to this goal. The ministers noted in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve (2009) that, besides the above mentioned instruments, "there are several initiatives designed to develop mechanisms for providing more detailed information about higher education institutions across the EHEA to make their diversity more transparent". "Such mechanisms, including those helping higher education systems and institutions to identify and compare their respective strengths, should be developed in close consultation with the key stakeholders. These transparency tools need to relate closely to the principles of the Bologna Process, in particular quality assurance and recognition, which will remain our priority, and should be based on comparable data and adequate indicators to describe the diverse profiles of higher education institutions and their programmes."

Transparency tools often referred to include:

  • Benchmarking exercises, where higher education institutions/study programmes are compared against a standard. The standard can be a maximum (comparing with the best performance), an average, or a minimum (comparing with a minimal accepted criteria);
  • Classifications, where higher education institutions/study programmes are assigned in different classes according to shared qualities (evaluative indicators) or characteristics (descriptive indicators);
  • Rankings, where higher education institutions/study programmes are ranked against a grading system, based on single indicators or multiple indicators, which can be or can be not aggregated;
  • Quality profiles, where higher education institutions display their performance against a set of common indicators in order to enhance comparability between them;
  • Registers offering comparable information on higher education institutions/study programmes.