As Canadian Studies courses disappear from European universities, our international profile sinks even lower
Bologna, Italy, known as both “the Fat” and “the Red,” is a city to a make a bookish vacationer salivate. Less overrun by package tours than Rome, Florence or Venice, Bologna combines superb food with the wonderful bookstores that seem to be the inevitable companion of left-wing politics. If the visitor is both Canadian and a writer, Bologna may feel particularly welcoming. Numerous Canadian writers have sold foreign rights to their books at the annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair; the university has an active Canadian Studies program. There is even an upmarket shop that specializes in items from Canada. If a hankering for Grade A Canadian maple syrup strikes you in the middle of an Italian vacation, Bologna is the place to go.
Today, however, this buoyant city is associated with a change in the structure of the European university system that will severely restrict the study of Canada in Europe. Anyone who has lectured on Canadian literature in European universities knows that we have a core of committed followers there: women and men who have devoted significant portions of their careers to introducing European students to the pleasures of Gallant and Richler, Layton and Laurence, Blais and Brand; experts in plumbing the labyrinths of Loyalism, Red Toryism, la Révolution tranquille, bilingualism and multiculturalism. Some of the students, infected by their instructors’ enthusiasm, go on to spread the Canadian gospel. It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of this activity given that most European newspapers, stunned by the garish glare from the southern half of our continent, rarely acknowledge the existence of sentient beings north of the forty-ninth parallel. On a globalized planet, national prestige is inseparable from the extent to which the chattering classes of other countries are acquainted with your nation’s culture. The CanLit courses that are offered from Málaga to Helsinki, often against institutional resistance, are a boon to Canadians everywhere. Canadian business people, many of whom lobby for education-stunting tax cuts at home, are able to make deals in Europe, in part because some Europeans have read our literature and therefore take us seriously. These gains are now in jeopardy because of the Bologna Process.
Like most of the politics of European integration, the Bologna Process is not simple. But it is important, because adherence to the Process extends beyond the twenty-seven members of the European Union to forty-five of the forty-six nations of the Council of Europe—in other words, every country between Iceland and Azerbaijan, with the exception of Belarus. Consisting of the Bologna Accord, signed in 1999, supplemented by the 2001 Prague Communiqué, the 2003 Berlin Communiqué and the 2005 Bergen Ministerial Conference, the Bologna Process mandates that by 2010 it must be “easy to move from one country to the other . . . for the purpose of further study or employment.” The goal is for Europeans to graduate with credentials that will be recognizable, interchangeable and instantly comprehensible across the forty-five nations. Until now, each country has cultivated its educational eccentricities. In Great Britain, for example, students spend three years as undergraduates, followed by three years as doctoral students, and graduate in their early twenties with PhDs and highly specialized training but minimal general knowledge. In Germany, where until recently there were no undergraduate programs, most students do a master’s that routinely takes six or seven years to complete and demands expert knowledge of three or four subjects; not one, but two, doctoral dissertations are required to obtain a permanent job in a university. Where a British academic may become a university teacher at twenty-four, her German counterpart is unlikely to have an academic job before her early forties. The Bologna Process aims to eliminate such inconsistencies by establishing a transnational norm of a three-year bachelor’s degree followed by a two-year master’s and a three-year doctorate. By 2010, university curricula across the “European Higher Education Area” must fit this model; in much of Europe, one of the fringe subjects being cut in order to implement these changes is Canadian Studies.
The problem for Canadian Studies is that few of the hundreds of professors, lecturers and graduate students who run courses or write theses on Canadian subjects are affiliated with universities that have full degree programs in Canadian subjects. In almost every case, Canada entered the university through the English or French department. As far back as the early 1980s, committed individuals such as Professor Judit Molnár at the University of Debrecen, Hungary, began offering optional courses, building private collections of Canadian literature, lending books to students, making pilgrimages to Canada and encouraging Canadian writers to visit their programs when travelling in Europe. The Bologna Process will crush these hard-won gains. Compliance with Bologna is taking place at different speeds in different countries—cautiously in Germany, slowly in Poland, rapidly in Hungary—but everywhere it means bad news for a diverse curriculum. In much of Europe, the implementation of the Bologna Process has coincided with a round of cutbacks to education, heightening the incentive to axe courses on marginal subjects.
Professor Ursula Moser, director of the Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, says: “We are still in the process of transformation and of changing our curricula. But you can see that there will be very little room left for Canadian Studies at the university level unless you have a complete program. Curricula are so loaded with all kinds of ‘basics’ that there is practically no room.” Professor Ana Olos, who founded the only master’s degree in Canadian Studies in Romania, at the University of the North in Baia Mare, points out that the reduction of the traditional four-year Romanian BA to three years to conform with Bologna, “has either reduced the number of disciplines or, if the disciplines have been preserved, the number of hours has been reduced.” Undergraduate courses on Canadian literature at the University of the North have been compressed into a single elective called “Anglophone Canadian Identity.” Professor Olos, who was recently forced into retirement by a clause of the Bologna Process, is grateful that Canadian Studies has survived at all. For second-generation Canadianist academics such as Mária Palla, a graduate of Judit Molnár’s program in Debrecen who now teaches at Kodolányi János University College in Székesfehérvár, Hungary, there is the frustration of not being able to teach the literature they studied: “We have managed to keep courses on Canadian culture and civilization but not much is offered in terms of literature.”
The long-term impact of the Bologna Process on Canada’s sinking international profile will be highly negative. Even fewer educated Europeans than in the past will be acquainted with Canadian culture or perceive Canada as a serious partner in international affairs. Canada has observer status at the Council of Europe, so our government could speak up to defend Canadian Studies courses in Europe. But who, in our government, will speak for Canada?