Viviane Reding, the European Union's commissioner for education, has admitted a lot more work remains to be done to make the European higher education area a reality by 2010.
"We are still far away from a situation in which transparency, quality and recognition are common features in Europe," she told a conference in the Netherlands.
In particular, a "special push" was needed in the areas of credits for lifelong learning, European masters programmes and quality assurance, she said. She called on European universities to pool their resources to create high-quality masters courses that could be operating as early as 2003 or 2004.
They would be supported financially by the European Commission through the EU's Socrates programme. And Brussels would also help in developing quality assurance and in establishing a credit system for lifelong learning, she promised.
The Tuning Educational Structures in Europe conference was held late last month to consider research coordinated by the universities of Duesto in Spain and Gronigen in the Netherlands. The universities examined the competences required of historians, physicists and veterinary practitioners, focusing on what such people should know and be able to do after the first (bachelors) or second (masters) cycle.
Peter van der Hijden, who is handling the project for the Commission, said that the UK was already "advanced" in terms of transparency. "You have benchmarks, you have a lot of evaluation so in that way we can only learn from the UK." But, he added, there was a lot of fine-tuning to do.