Universities in Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Sweden, Finland and the land Islands should collaborate more closely and create joint centres of excellence in research and researcher training to attract more students, the countries' ministers say.
Only 5 per cent of Nordic university students choose other Nordic states when studying abroad - most go to the United States or Britain.
"Nordic universities are just drops in the ocean," says Birte Weiss, Denmark's minister of research. "Getting together is sensible, as joint research centres will give us a strong position in competition with international research." The institutions' interests and an assessment of the research perspectives involved must drive the collaboration, Ms Weiss stressed.
She wants the Nordic rectors to start a dialogue about binding collaboration in research and researcher training in certain areas, where at least one of the universities is an international leader.
However, many university leaders feel that centres of excellence need both a pan-European dimension and voluntary collaboration, and solutions must not be forced on the universities and research centres. Collaboration does have problems as some of the countries are moving at different paces.
"Centres of excellence in research cannot be created - they develop," said Hans Peter Jensen, rector of the Technical University of Denmark. "I believe one should avoid making more Nordic frameworks that nobody will follow."
Maija Rask, Finland's minister of education, said the Nordic languages had to be retained even in the global market. Bjorn Bjarnason, Iceland's minister of culture, education and research, admitted that language was a problem for foreign students, adding that it was necessary to use English.
The Bologna declaration expresses a joint European role in the development of a global market for the production and propagation of knowledge. Danish minister of education Margrethe Vestager said: "This implies a great challenge for the Nordic countries and their institutions. I will do my best to ensure that we in the Nordic area continue our good tradition for participating in the larger international collaboration in the best possible way.
"Instead of harmonising Europe's education systems, we should strengthen their differences," she added. "I do not believe that harmonisation will be able to respect a higher education institution's individual objectives."