European university leaders and the European Union are close to burying their differences over how higher education quality is to be assured through a common set of standards across the EU.
Eric Froment, president of the European University Association, supported the establishment of quality control procedures when he appeared before the European Parliament's culture, youth and education committee. He went on to support the creation of European masters degrees.
The EUA has been resolutely opposed to a centrally imposed quality assurance mechanism that would reduce university autonomy and add bureaucracy. Rectors have argued that the mechanisms should grow from existing voluntary schemes within the universities.
They believe the higher education sector must take responsibility for developing a Europe-wide system based on self-regulation schemes that would use the national systems of quality assurance as a reference point.
Many see a European validation scheme for quality assurance and accreditation procedures as the most viable solution. The EUA conference in April in Roskilde, Denmark, will explore the options.
Professor Froment appeared before the committee after its adoption of a report that called on his association and the European Commission to develop a "European university label".
The paper, drafted by French conservative MEP Marielle de Sarnez, says:
"The EU must... focus on promoting training modules that meet the quality requirements of students and teachers at every university in every member state. These modules could be awarded a sort of 'European university label', which would make it easier to 'sell' European university training courses on the international training market."
The paper highlights growing concern about the inability of EU universities to compete with those in the United States in the market for attracting gifted students from overseas.
Ministers are expected to attach increased priority to quality issues when European leaders meet in Barcelona later this month.