Our paper investigates the emergence, development and contested nature of quality assurance (QA) in the European policy arena as part and parcel of the Bologna Process. We conceptualise our paper on the background of the study of multi-level and multi-actor dynamics between national, inter-governmental and supranational policies; we discuss the changing ideational framing of QA in the European policy arena, and attempts at European norm-setting and standardisation. QA in the Bologna Process moved from a non-binding inter-governmental agreement towards monitored coordination and became embedded in the competitive turn in European higher education policy stressing an instrumental view of the university. QA policies unfold coercive pressure for convergence alongside soft templates and prototypes of ‘best practice’. The impressive architecture of Bologna leaves, however, ample room for national and institutional design in policy implementation and a variety of preferences and interests of actors at different levels.