The head of France's university quality body has said that Europe's proposed higher education area cannot operate effectively without an agreed evaluation system.
National governments must develop this together voluntarily because they, not the European Union, are responsible for education policy, according to Gilles Bertrand, president of the Comite National D'evaluation des Etablissements Publics a Caract re Scientifique, Culturel et Professionel (CNE).
In the declarations of Bologna in 1999 and Prague in 2001, ministers from 32 countries agreed aims for a European higher education system by 2010 covering such aspects as greater harmonisation, mutual recognition of degrees and more international staff and student mobility.
Under the 1992 Maastricht treaty, however, education is a national government responsibility, and developments towards convergence of higher education systems had been through mutual consent, not obligation, Professor Bertrand said.
"Questions arise on European development and the new university area - about the validity of national systems, the criteria for establishing standards, how we identify ourselves, ways of evaluating universities and accrediting diplomas," Professor Bertrand said.
This month, the Geneva-based European Universities Association and the ESIB, National Unions of Students in Europe, signed an agreement on the European higher education area that supports student and teacher mobility, a European credit system, the social dimension of the Bologna process, links with Europe's research area, special attention for the Balkan countries and quality assurance.
"The national evaluation agencies have created the European Network of Quality Assurance, and there is this idea of all these agencies establishing a charter to promote evaluation, methodology and convergence, and to conform to the same practices," Professor Bertrand said.
But because education is a national responsibility, "for the moment there is no overall European body, only meetings and contacts".
The CNE was created under the 1984 Higher Education Act, which increased universities' autonomy. In 1989, it became an autonomous body with its own state budget. Its primary role is to evaluate France's 150 or so higher education establishments.