European university leaders are to carry out a detailed appraisal of university funding in the wake of the decision in the UK to charge tuition fees far in excess of anything in continental Europe.
While it is not prepared to say that last week's Commons vote runs counter to the Bologna process of convergence towards a European higher education area by 2010, the European University Association acknowledges that funding issues play a central role and cannot be ignored.
But in private, a number of rectors and vice-chancellors see the English model of deferred payments as a solution to chronic underfunding, overcrowding and overdependence on state funding.
While a number of European countries levy registration or facilities fees, none has anything approaching the levels proposed by the Labour government.
In some countries, such as Sweden, tuition fees are unconstitutional.
Johan Alkqvist, president of the European Student Information Bureau, the umbrella group for national student unions, said its opposition was not confined to the potential deterrent effect. It also had doubts about whether income from fees would lead to tangible improvements in universities.
"At the moment, we see a lot of problems with fees," he said.
The EUA is working closely with the ESIB. Eric Froment, the EUA president, accepted that the two might not agree but said that a dialogue was important in the run-up to the EUA's convention in Glasgow next March, when the funding issue will be discussed.
Professor Froment said of the English fees decision: "For the moment, from the EUA point of view, we do not think it is a danger to the mobility of students."
The Glasgow conference will create a declaration on "the sustainable university" from discussions in Marseille this week, Turin in June and Maastricht in October. It will be presented to the next ministerial meeting in the Bologna process in Bergen, Norway, in May 2005.
The Marseille conference - on the theme of engaging stakeholders - was overshadowed by the French political crisis, with Jean-Marc Monteil, director of the higher education division of the ministry of education and research, unable to speak pending policy direction from his newly appointed ministers.