Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Eighth Report






Draft Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a programme for the enhancement of quality in higher education and the promotion of intercultural understanding through co-operation with third countries (Erasmus World) (2004-2008).

Legal base:

Article 149 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting


Document originated:

17 July 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

1 August 2002


Education and Skills

Basis of consideration:

EM of 23 August 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

12 November 2002

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared; further information requested




    1. The draft Decision arises from last year's Commission Communication on strengthening co-operation with third countries in the field of higher education,[10] which was particularly concerned with the need to market Europe as a centre of excellence in order to attract more international students. It aims to extend the existing Erasmus scheme which, as part of the Socrates education programme, is concerned with exchanges of students between universities and other higher education (HE) institutions in Member States.
    2. The document

    3. The proposal is to establish a new _200m (125.2m) programme to run for five years from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2008, with four main strands:

    • European Union Masters courses. 250 new inter-university courses are proposed, supported by a total of _5.3m (3.3m) over five years. Each course is to involve at least three HE institutions from three different Member States, and each student will be required to spend part of his or her course in at least two of the institutions.

    • "Erasmus World" scholarships. The aim is to create approximately 4,200 new Masters scholarships (modelled on the American Fulbright scheme[11]) and to fund 1,000 visiting scholars to European Union Member States from third countries, supported by _144.5m (90.5m).

    • Partnership projects. These would involve co-operation between EU Masters Courses and universities in other continents. Besides encouraging mutual recognition and accreditation, the projects would provide a framework for the outward mobility of 4,000 European students and 800 European scholars, supported by _26.5m (16.6m).

    • Promotion of European higher education. Activities under this head would include the establishment of services to help third country students access European universities, supported by _10.7m (6.7m).

In addition, technical assistance for the projects would be supported by _13m (8.1m).

The Government's view

    1. The Minister of State for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education (Margaret Hodge) tells us that the Government is forming its view on these proposals and, in particular, on whether they represent value for money. She says:
    2. "Our potential concerns are whether this funding could be put to better use; whether expenditure under the proposal will tend to favour other Member States disproportionately over the UK; whether we are funding scholarships for students who would have come to the UK in any case; and whether there are potential implications for UK student support. But there is potential for advantages for UK institutions in bidding to run courses, accept students on scholarships in, send students on scholarships out, and build successful partnerships with non-EU HE institutions."

    3. The Minister tells us that the funding for the proposal is to be found within the existing financial perspective, but that, at present, the Government does not know how this will be arranged.
    4. Turning to the particular strands of the proposal, the Minister comments on the EU Masters courses as follows:
    5. "These should help UK universities and colleges in developing successful collaborative partnerships with universities and colleges in the rest of Europe. But there may be disadvantages for UK universities and colleges in terms of the fees they can then charge international students who study on the joint European Masters courses."

    6. With regard to the scholarships strand, she says:
    7. "This will advantage the UK, both financially and culturally, in that these will be additional international students learning alongside UK students. Their scholarships will contribute towards the economic cost of their tuition, and their other expenditure while in the UK will benefit their local community. It is not clear from the proposal whether the scholarships would cover in full the cost of the students' living expenses. The students in question would be unable to access UK student support — nor would we want them to — so there may be demand for the scholarship to reflect this.

    8. The Minister considers that the partnership projects will help UK universities and colleges to build strong links. With regard to promotion, she points out that the UK already has a significant market advantage in this area.
    9. The proposal is likely to be on the agenda of the EU Education and Culture Council of 12 November.
    10. Conclusion

    11. Neither the document nor the Explanatory Memorandum appears to specify any particular subject areas for the proposed Masters courses. We recall that the earlier Commission Communication's focus on science and technology raised some UK concern. We ask the Minister to confirm that this emphasis has now been dropped.
    12. The Minister helpfully lists the potential advantages and disadvantages which the Government will need to assess in coming to a view on this proposal. At this stage, we will keep the document under scrutiny until we know more about the Government's position, and about the funding arrangements.


10  (22661) 11274/02; see HC 152-vi (2001-02), paragraph 17 ( 14 November 2001). Back

11  A programme of academic exchanges established by Senator J. William Fulbright after World War II and widely recognised as the USA's flagship programme of international education.  Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 11 November 2002