With the Bologna Process on track for 2010, European higher education ministers want universities to ensure that doctoral programmes satisfy the broader job market as well as training future generations of academics.
A report on underlying principles is to be prepared for the meeting of Bologna ministers in London in 2007.
A communique from last week's Bergen conference recognised the substantial progress since 2003 in the priority areas of quality assurance, degree structure and recognition of degrees across the 45 Bologna states. Five of these - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - became members at the meeting.
It went on to warn: "Efforts to introduce structural change and improve the quality of teaching should not detract from the effort to strengthen research and innovation. We therefore emphasise the importance of research and research training in maintaining and improving the quality of and enhancing the competitiveness and attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)."
Doctoral-level qualifications should be fully aligned with the EHEA's qualifications framework while retaining their central role of original research.
Ministers urged universities to "ensure that their doctoral programmes promote interdisciplinary training and the development of transferable skills, thus meeting the needs of the wider employment market".
British universities welcomed ministers' warning to the European Commission that "overregulation of doctoral programmes must be avoided". Tish Bourke, manager of the UK Higher Education Europe Unit, said: "We would not want to see a blueprint for a European doctorate."
Ministers expressed cautious satisfaction at the pace of implementation of the two-cycle degree structure, and noted that further progress needed to be made on student involvement and international co-operation in quality assurance processes. They urged the nine countries yet to ratify the Lisbon Recognition Convention to do so and asked for a progress report in 2007.
Roderick Floud, vice-president of the European Universities Association, said: "No one who attended the Bologna conference in 1999 would have expected that anything like the change that has occurred could be achieved."
Ministers were keen to ensure that the EHEA qualifications framework meshed with proposals for qualifications for lifelong learning being developed within the European Union.
They adopted the European Association for Quality Assurance guidelines, accepted peer review of quality assurance agencies on a national basis, and welcomed the principle of a European register of quality assurance agencies.