European education ministers will consider plans to raise standards of doctoral programmes across the Continent when they meet in Norway next May.
The Bergen meeting, which is part of the Bologna Process, will examine options developed at a seminar to be held a few months earlier.
Experts attending the seminar in Austria will make proposals based on an analysis of doctoral programmes in Europe, identifying "the essential conditions" for making these successful and promoting international cooperation in their development.
The seminar will debate the organisation of PhD courses, quality, jobs carried out by doctoral students in universities, best practice and internationalisation of advanced studies. The proposals and related studies on European doctoral courses will feed into the Bergen meeting, charged with expanding the Bologna Process into doctoral studies.
Per Nyborg, Bologna follow-up group secretariat head, told The Times Higher that he hoped ministers would extend the remit of the system's quality assurance institutes to cover doctoral programmes. "What you need for quality is for a common agreement on an approach that supports work under the Bologna Process."
But he said that because of the diversity of doctoral programmes, these benchmarks would be much looser than for bachelors and masters degrees, although there would at least be a rule that PhDs must involve original research.
Academics have already debated how a Bologna consensus on doctoral programme quality could boost the European Research Area, given that it could encourage universities to promote research.
This could be of particular relevance to Eastern European countries with a tradition of research controlled from national institutes rather than based in universities.
The Euro think-tank Eurydice is collating data on enrolment requirements, taught elements in courses, how universities combine to offer courses and degrees and how doctorates might fit within the Bologna Process.
A European University Association project involving higher education institutes is looking at aspects of doctoral programmes.