PART 4 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS |
187. The Committee notes that
the present programme, in an area where national differences are
profound, has successfully extended forms of university cooperation
which are of benefit to the country as well as to universities
and their staff and students.
188. We are convinced by the
arguments for the Community programmes as an investment. We consider
that they work to the benefit of the populations of the participating
countries. We also note that demand for these programmes far outstrips
189. We believe that to propose
ambitious programmes without commensurate funding would be to
build castles in the air, and would produce disillusionment.
190. We therefore call on the
Government to support proposals to provide sufficient funds to
sustain a worthwhile and expanding programme.
191. The Committee is persuaded
that the Socrates-Erasmus programme benefits the European
Community as a whole; individual countries within the Community;
universities; and the students who take part in the programme.
We therefore consider that the programme should be an important
and positive aspect of the United Kingdom's higher education institutional
192. The Committee views exchanges
under Erasmus as a crucial part of the international dimension
of higher education. Not only do students going abroad benefit
from their experience, but British universities benefit from the
presence there of Erasmus students from other countries.
As cultures, economies and businesses have become increasingly
globalised, so too have academic disciplines. The international
dimension of higher education is therefore something in which
the Committee considers to be of great value, and to be encouraged.
193. The Committee is concerned
at the lack of coordination of the United Kingdom's strategy towards
Socrates-Erasmus. The Committee believes that a more coherent
strategy is a necessary step in redressing the imbalance of flow
by encouraging British students to take part in the programme.
We therefore recommend that the Government should discuss with
the CVCP and the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council how such coordination
might best be achieved, and that they should then act on the outcome
of such discussions in order to ensure a more positive and strategic
approach to the programmes within the United Kingdom.
194. The Committee is concerned
about the imbalance of flow of Erasmus students in and
out of the United Kingdom only insofar as that imbalance reflects
a reluctance on the part of British students to take part in the
programmes. British universities are fortunate to attract a high
number of incoming Erasmus students. The Committee recommends
that action be taken to address the issues which prevent the United
Kingdom from sending a similar number of students abroad under
195. In particular, the Committee
recommends that urgent action be taken to improve language teaching
in schools and universities. We note with concern the falling
number of foreign language assistants in state schools in recent
years. We note also the Minister's acknowledgment that "we
need to work very hard to recruit more people to teach French,
German, Spanish" in secondary schools. We recommend that
the Government should take immediate steps to find ways to improve
the teaching of all major foreign languages in secondary schools,
and to encourage the use of language assistants in the state sector.
In addition, we call upon the Government to give further consideration
to the teaching of languages in primary schools.
196. We recommend the provision
of intensive language courses in universities to enable students
(in particular students who are not language students) to take
up opportunities to study abroad. We recommend that HEFCE incentive
funding be used as a source of finance for these courses. We would
also welcome an increase in the use of language assistants in
universities, as well as in schools.
197. The Committee draws the
attention of the House to the long-term benefits which accrue
to the United Kingdom from hosting foreign students at British
198. We do not believe that the
United Kingdom should seek compensation for hosting such a large
number of Erasmus students. While we accept that universities
hosting these students incur costs, we also acknowledge that other
countries incur greater costs of translation and language training
than the United Kingdom does. Furthermore, we consider that the
way to deal with the imbalance of flow is not to apply for compensation,
but to decrease the imbalance by encouraging more British students
to take up Erasmus places.
199. Although we do not believe
that the United Kingdom should seek compensation, we do acknowledge
that the funding structures in higher education in the United
Kingdom give rise to perverse effects, so that British universities
would incur a financial cost by taking Erasmus students,
even if the inflow of students matched the outflow exactly.
200. We welcome the Government's
intention of waiving tuition fees for out-going Erasmus
students. However, we note that funding structures at present
still make it more attractive for universities to take third-country
students, rather than Erasmus students and other EU students.
201. We recommend that the Government
should undertake or commission a study of funding mechanisms of
British higher education courses, with the intention of producing
recommendations as to how to eliminate this perverse effect of
the current funding arrangements on European higher education
202. The Committee welcomes the
Commission's commitment to widening access, but suggests that
the aspiration will be effective only if there is greater flexibility
in the programme. The Committee also believes that the effectiveness
of access needs to be evaluated.
203. The Committee recommends
that the Commission should plan for more short courses and summer
schools but that these should not be at the expense of the traditional
academic Erasmus study scheme.
204. The Committee welcomes the
Commission's special provision for disabled students, but notes
the very small numbers of disabled students who are able to take
up places as a result of this provision. The Committee recommends
that the new programmes should make specific provision for disabled
students, framed in such a way as to make it possible for disabled
students to take up places on the Erasmus programme.
205. The Committee recommends
that the Commission's new monitoring procedures should cover access
issues. We agree with the Minister that such monitoring should
provide information on gender, socio-economic background, race,
and ethnic group. Access for people with disabilities should also
206. The Committee notes the
agreement that the principle of mobility is crucial to the success
of new programmes. But we also consider that however welcome the
principle, the practicalities need to be addressed. Successful
outcomes depend on adequate funding and on more flexible structures.
207. The Committee recommends
that the physical mobility of students and academic staff be a
priority in the new programme. The Committee recommends that the
Commission maintain its existing programmes, but that the flexible
approach recommended above in relation to short courses and summer
schools be extended to meet the needs of teachers as well as other
mobile groups, such as mature students and postgraduates.
208. The Committee notes the
pressures for the programme to diversify. The result of diversification
would be that the period spent abroad would not necessarily be
integrated with the course at the student's home university. We
feel that this would be weakening one of the best aspects of the
programme and we reassert the importance of co-operation between
universities to give recognition the period of study abroad, whether
or not such recognition takes place within the framework of the
European Credit Transfer system.
209. The Committee agrees that
the priority of the programme is mobility, rather than the fostering
of minority languages. We therefore consider it legitimate to
target English language provision within the programme, as well
as targeting minority languages.
210. The Committee recognises
the tension between giving priority to minority languages in the
programme and responding to embedded student preferences in exchanges.
However, we would like to see more language teaching built into
the programme, both to promote cultural exchange and to encourage
study in a foreign language.
211. The Committee therefore
recommends that the Commission build incentive payments for language
devinto the new programme's funding.
212. We also recommend that,
while doing all it can to preserve the viability of minority languages,
the new programme should recognise and respond to the overwhelming
demand for English language courses. The growing trend to use
English as the lingua franca in the academic world should
not be ignored.
213. The Committee notes that
the introduction of the institutional contract has sharpened the
European strategy of many higher education institutions, and to
that extent, the Committee considers the institutional contract
to have been a success.
214. However, the Committee notes
the concern of those directly concerned with implementing the
programmes, that the introduction of institutional contracts has
weakened the goodwill and commitment of university teachers and
researchers which were the great strengths of the earlier programme.
We acknowledge that activities needed to be thought of within
an overall strategy, but it is vital that European university
co-operation builds on the strength of academic freedom. The new
programme must maintain and encourage academic co-operation.
215. The Committee therefore
recommends that the Commission abandons the strategy of keeping
academic cooperation networks separate from the institutional
contracts. We recommend instead that academic cooperation should
be built in at the heart of each institutional contract.
216. The Committee agrees with
the importance of seeing universities as local and regional poles
of development, and supports the Commission's endeavours to involve
other parties such as employers, parents and social and voluntary
217. The Committee welcomes the
Commission's intention of integrating the new higher education
programme with other Community programmes in the fields of education,
training and youth.
218. The Committee welcomes the
Commission's proposals to decentralise the management system.
In the Committee's view, an increased role for the national agency
would increase the efficiency and flexibility of the programme,
thus widening access to students currently unable to participate,
and would help to encourage students not to drop their Erasmus
219. As our enquiry progressed
it became increasingly clear to us that in terms of UK education
policy, Europe can no longer be seen as an add-on. The European
dimension of our own national education strategy can not be ignored.
220. The Committee believes that
the matters considered in this Report raise important questions
to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and we make
this Report to the House for debate.