56. The UK is a significant player
in the Erasmus programme (Mr Reilly, Q 14). Big universities
such as Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Sheffield were
among the most active participants, although Oxford, Cambridge
and the London School of Economics, all prestigious names, were
among those which participated very little. Professor Teichler
(Q 220-Q 222) confirmed that, originally, middle ground
institutions were in general the pioneers, with prestigious institutions
initially hanging back since they already had their international
contacts. But this had now changed. The most prestigious institutions
in other EU countries now considered it very important to be part
of the Socrates-Erasmus programme.
57. UK Socrates-Erasmus Council statistics
(pp 9-12) show that British universities as a whole hosted 26.4
per cent of all Erasmus students, the biggest proportion
anywhere. In 1995-1996, the latest year for which statistics on
results (as opposed to applications) were available, there were
a total of 82,532 Erasmus awards EU-wide. The UK received
21,808 incoming Erasmus students, but it sent out only
11,735. Its outgoing students represented 14.2 per cent of the
total that year. The only Member State with a greater proportional
imbalance was Ireland, which hosted 3,312 students and sent out
only 1,618. France was the only other Member State to host more
Erasmus students than it sent out (15,177 in; 13,336 out).
58. Erasmus coverage is wide.
Students from all participating countries study at all other participating
countries; and all disciplines are covered by the programme. In
1995-96, UK students went to all the participating countries (bar
Luxembourg which does not have a university). Though business
studies, languages, law and social sciences dominated, British
Erasmus students were drawn from all disciplines (pp 9-12).
59. Many of the Committee's witnesses
were concerned to distinguish the Erasmus incoming EU students
from those who register separately for a degree ("the free
movers" in the terminology of Gordon and Jallade - see footnote
5). The UK imports "free movers" on a very significant
scale indeed. The Committee took evidence from Mr Tony Clark,
Director of higher education in the DfEE (QQ 37-40) that, excluding
Erasmus students, there are over 45,000 full-time undergraduate
students from the EU at UK universities (Table II, p 22). On the
other hand, there were only around 10,000 UK students studying
abroad (Table V, p 27), giving an imbalance of 35,000 students.
Mr Clark thought (Q 66) that the UK was thus providing for EU
students the equivalent of "three or four substantial universities"
(see also para 79 below). The mode of calculation was strongly
contested by Professor Teichler (Q 228), on the ground that the
cost of incoming foreign students should be considered as marginal
costs, similar to those which are incurred when the student:teacher
ratio is increased. The idea that the number of incoming students
might be bad for Britain was contested by many witnesses, but
the issue fell outside the Committee's terms of reference and
we do no more than signpost it here.
60. In terms of the Socrates-Erasmus
programme, one concern for Mr Reilly was that there were very
few participating students in natural sciences and engineering;
but a more general problem was the fact that the number of British
Erasmus students was relatively low, meaning that there
was an "imbalance of flow" with every partner country.
Moreover, unlike the other "big players", France and
Germany, the number of British students who participated in the
programme was now in decline. Applications fell by 10 per cent
in 1996-1997 (Mr Reilly, Q 5).
61. Dr Drake, Mr Jennings (the International
Development Officer at the University of Bradford), Miss Jones
and Professor Sibson all gave examples of this "imbalance"
within their own institutions (QQ 141-147, 182 and 135). The Institute
of Physics reported 19 Erasmus programmes in its discipline,
but while 32 students came to the UK, only one was studying abroad
(p 106). In contrast, Germany was sending out 28 physics students.
Professor King told the Committee that the University of Lincolnshire
and Humberside, which has a large European programme, had purposely
reduced its commitment (Q 135). Applications from abroad to study
at Loughborough University have been falling too, with Dr Drake
suggesting this was far from unusual (Q 145).
62. The Committee was also told by
Mr Clark (Q 62) that drop out rates from Erasmus were significant,
and moreover were worse in the UK than most countries. UK Socrates-Erasmus
Council figures show that more than half of the students given
awards do not take up their awards (7-Year Report, p 12; and Data
Report 1996, p 13).
63. Given this imbalance, the Committee
decided that before coming to conclusions on the principles contained
in the Commission's Communication, it needed to take evidence
on the British balance question: what explains the imbalance of
"flows" of students within the Erasmus programme
between the UK and its partners? And what can, or should, be done