Europe's universities are committed to advancing the Bologna process of convergence by 2010 but have voiced doubts about some issues they will be asked to tackle.
Intensive discussions in Graz, Austria, last week, produced the basis for a convention to be submitted to European education ministers in Berlin in September. It will be finalised next month by leaders of the European University Association.
At the same time, the elite Academia Europaea expressed doubts about the European Commission's ideas for universities in its Europe of Knowledge project, suggesting that its "laudable" ambitions may not be attainable given the "diverse and over-burdening pressures that modern universities are now facing".
The academia, which is composed of some 2,000 individual members (including 36 Nobel laureates) in 35 European countries, said that if the commission's aim of achieving a knowledge society was to be taken seriously, "much greater care had to be taken to engineer a real and sustainable balance between the diverse goals and functions of universities".
Recognition of this diversity underlay the discussions in Graz. Roderick Floud, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, who led the 45-strong British delegation to Graz, said: "There was no real dissent from the Bologna process but there were concerns about a number of aspects."
Pre-eminent among these was the proposal to integrate doctoral training within Bologna - a move many at Graz said needed to be spelt out in greater detail. And there was a consensus on the need for further discussions on European-level quality assurance.
Professor Floud said: "Everyone accepts that if you are to have mobility and credit accumulation, there has to be mutual trust between all people concerned, including the institutions and the quality assurance agencies.
Quality assurance is for the individual higher education institutions - there is no support for a European quality assurance agency."
Vivian Reding, European Commissioner for education and culture, warned:
"Bologna cannot be implemented a la carte. It has to be done across the board and wholeheartedly."