Ministers from the 40 states signed up to the Bologna Process will be urged to put social issues at the top of the agenda for Europe's higher education arena when they meet in Bergen in May.
At the Berlin summit in 2003, priorities were based on structures, quality assurance and recognition.
But Vera Stastna, chair of the Council of Europe's Higher Education and Research Committee, said: "They themselves are not our goals - they are a necessary means to achieving quality higher education that will be attractive and could compete at any level.
"And this will not be possible without social aspects being taken seriously and becoming our priority."
Ms Stastna was the rapporteur for a seminar that last week brought more than 170 academics, students, education officials and experts from 33 countries to Paris to debate the "Social Dimension of the European Higher Education Area and Worldwide Competition".
She said that to create a future Europe that "will be dynamic, attractive and competitive, such a Europe must be based on the principle of social solidarity".
The seminar, organised by the French education ministry and ESIB, the national union of students in Europe, took place at the Sorbonne, where the Bologna process began.
Ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Italy signed the Sorbonne Declaration in May 1998 calling for a European area of higher education, with harmonisation of systems, mutual recognition of qualifications and international mobility of students, teachers and researchers.
Participants in the seminar's workshops called on ministers in Bergen to make social dimensions Bologna's priority for 2005-07, and analyse the social and economic situation of students in all member states.
They agreed that future funding must take account of social objectives including student grants and loans, living conditions and services for students such as guidance in choosing establishments and courses.
Quality assurance mechanisms must integrate social aspects; and beyond Bergen, all national authorities, higher education institutions and students must work together to make the social dimension a reality, they said.
Andrzej Bielecki of the ESIB, who attended a workshop at the seminar that focused on the mobility of students, said: "In general, visa problems are an issue for the southeastern countries but not in the European Union countries. In Western Europe, generally speaking, the social barrier - family background - is the biggest obstacle, but in Eastern Europe the financial one is greatest."
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