European education ministers are this week considering how to persuade governments in southeastern Europe and the western Balkans to give universities more autonomy and allow more co-operation with the rest of the Continent.
A conference convened this month in Vienna by the European University Association brought together university representatives and education experts from seven of the region's countries.
Lamija Tanovic, professor of science at the University of Sarajevo and representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG), said: "The most important outcome of the conference is that education in the Balkans has been put into the spotlight for the first time.
"Until now, the focus has always been on economic and social recovery following war or communism, but now it will hopefully send a strong signal to our countries' governments that higher education has to become a priority."
The main focus of the congress, organised jointly by the EUA and Austria as president of the European Union, was how to implement the Bologna Process in the region. Participants agreed that without the process, which aims to establish a European area of education by 2010, it will not be possible for students from the Balkans to attain good-quality degrees.
The results of the conference are to be presented to an informal meeting of education ministers in Vienna on March 16 and 17.
Georg Winckler, president of the EUA and rector of Vienna University, said:
"Implementing the Bologna Process is vital in order to create a set of standards throughout the whole of Europe that will encourage mobility.
"Regional co-operation is extremely important in terms of establishing joint degree programmes and research teams, which will ensure Europe's competitiveness on a global scale," he said.
Education ministers, particularly in EU accession and pre-accession countries, had to follow up their commitment to European objectives by providing public funding to support priorities such as the Bologna Process, delegates agreed.
Requests are also to be made to ministers to support representatives of the process in developing and disseminating information about European higher education reforms and developments. Another key issue discussed is the lack of quality assurance systems in the Balkans. It is hoped this issue will be resolved as a consequence.
A representative of the National Unions of Students in Europe, Janja Komljenovic from Slovenia, said that one of the main reasons that top students from the region were heading to the UK, Germany and Austria was because of the lack of quality assurance in their own countries.
"There are no systems in place to ensure students get a certain standard of tuition either internally or externally. Universities are unable to perform correctly because of outside political influences. Many of the full-time professors are politicians, who don't want to know about the Bologna Process and don't want to move forward," she said.