France is passing key stages in its effort to achieve the Bologna declaration's aim of harmonising higher education across Europe.
The consultative National Council for Higher Education and Research (CNESER) has adopted two decrees. One approves the creation of degrees fitting the agreed European model, which will include the postgraduate mastaire ; the second will lead to the introduction of a credit system aimed at promoting student mobility.
Education minister Jack Lang welcomed the council's endorsements. He said they would not only increase student mobility but would help introduce multidisciplinarity and create opportunities for students to change studies or resume them through continuing education.
France is also moving towards professionalising postgraduate human and social sciences diplomas and integrating them into a European education system. After an inquiry commissioned by Mr Lang, a conference in Paris last week debated how postgraduate degrees in human and social sciences should provide professional training for careers other than teaching and research and how they should fit in the European "architecture" of diplomas.
Blandine Kriegel of Paris-X (Nanterre) University, who led the inquiry and chaired the conference, said there were three main conclusions. First, these professionally oriented postgraduate degrees must have "clear European equivalence"; second, they must cover practical subjects such as languages and information technology; and third, links for continuing education should be set up for postgraduates in employment who wanted to return for PhD studies.
France took a lead in promoting the idea of a European university space in 1998 when it organised a conference at the Sorbonne. With Britain, Germany and Italy, it called for more harmonisation of higher education systems, mutual recognition of qualifications and more international staff and student mobility. In Bologna the following year, ministers agreed aims to build a common European higher education system by 2010. This year in Prague, ministers from 32 countries voted to further the Bologna process.
• France's research minister welcomed European research ministers' adoption last week of the Sixth Framework research and development programme, with a €17.5 billion (£11 billion) budget covering 2002-06.
Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg said the programme would "truly mark year one of the construction of the European research area".