European education ministers have agreed to expand the Bologna process of higher-education convergence to include three more countries and to open the way for future membership by Balkan states.
Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey joined the scheme, which aims to increase staff and student mobility in European universities and colleges and to create compatible degree structures and credit systems.
Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Albania were among the countries offered the chance to join soon at the Prague summit last weekend.
Srbijanka Turajlic, Serbia's deputy minister of education and sports, said it would be a powerful psychological boost and would signal the country's return to the wider European community after a decade of dictatorship and war.
Darko Polsek, Croatian deputy minister for science and technology, said membership would have a beneficial effect on domestic policies, increasing intra-regional cooperation.
But a move to promote a single system of quality assurance was quashed at the summit. Instead, closer cooperation and the adoption of common objectives in qualifications and better use of compatible credit-transfer systems were backed.
The development of European joint degrees, increased support for lifelong learning and the strengthening of the role of students in the Bologna process were also announced at the summit.
Baroness Blackstone, minister of state for education and employment, said the summit decisions would boost Britain's system of close cooperation with foreign institutions. Wider acceptance of a two-cycle system of three-year undergraduate and five-year post-graduate degrees was also good news for Britain, she said.