France, Britain, Germany and Italy took a step towards a University of Europe this week when their representatives signed a declaration calling for more harmonisation of their higher education systems, more mutual recognition of qualifications and more international mobility of students, teachers and researchers.
The joint statement on Monday was the climax of a two-day conference of European academics and politicians celebrating the 800th anniversary of Paris University and laying plans for European higher education in the next century. "The Europe we are building is not only that of the Euro, banks and the economy," it said, "it must also be a Europe of learning."
The four signatories were all ministers responsible for higher education: France's Claude All gre, Italy's Luigi Berlinguer, Britain's Baroness Blackstone and Germany's Jurgen Ruttgers.
Too many students graduate without having studied abroad, said the declaration, which called for a "European space open to higher education" that respects national differences while exerting "vigorous efforts to abolish barriers and develop a framework for teaching to promote mobility and increasingly closer cooperation".
The proposals included a harmonised higher education system with two principal levels to simplify international comparisons: a three-year course leading to the equivalent of a bachelors degree, then a choice between a masters or a doctorate. At every level students would be encouraged to study in a foreign country. A credit system would count towards qualifications at home or abroad in initial or continuing education.
It is hoped that other European Union members will join the four initial signatory countries.