40. SOCRATES-ERASMUS PROGRAMME
Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of
the Committee to Baroness Blackstone, Minister of State, Department
for Education and Employment
The Committee prepared a Report on Student
Mobility in the European Community
in 1998. In taking evidence on this subject, we became concerned
at the low level of UK student participation in the Socrates-Erasmus
programme, and at the size of the imbalance between the UK's outward
and inward student mobility. We concluded that the imbalance is
a problem "insofar as [it] reflects a reluctance on the part
of British students to take part in the programmes" (paragraph
The Committee's concern has been reawakened
by an article in the Times Higher Educational Supplement
(16 April 1999), which stated that the imbalance was greater than
ever in 1997-98. A memorandum received from Mr John Reilly, the
director of the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council, suggested that there
had been a further absolute fall in UK participation in 1998-99
(final figures will be available in November); the imbalance will
remain at around its 1997-98 level.
It is clear that the reluctance of British students
to take part in the Socrates-Erasmus programme continues to grow.
In the Government's response to the Report, certain measures were
promised to help overcome this reluctance, and the Committee wishes
to know what progress has been made in effecting these:
(1) improved publicity was promised, and
it was envisaged that the introduction of the Socrates II programme
in January 2000 would be anticipated by "a high profile event
with a Ministerial speech" in mid-1999. We understand from
Mr Reilly that the Commission re-launch is likely to take place
in Portugal in March 2000, and that the UK re-launch is unlikely
to take place before May. There is clearly a danger that the opportunity
offered by the introduction of Socrates II for stimulating interest
in the programme will be lost. What progress has been made in
improving publicity for the programme, and what plans are in place
for the re-launch of Socrates II?
(2) It is generally acknowledged that UK
students are deterred from participating in the programme by their
shortcomings in mastery of foreign languages. In its Report the
Committee recommended that "urgent action be taken to improve
language teaching in schools and universities", and noted
with concern "the falling number of foreign language assistants
in state schools" (paragraph 195). In its response the Government
noted that the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges
was "taking action to arrest and reverse this decline".
What progress has the Central Bureau made, and what steps has
the Government taken to encourage universities to improve their
use of language assistants? Has the Government made any progress
towards the long-term objective of improving language teaching
in primary schools?
The Committee would welcome answers to these
questions. We will also be keeping abreast of the progress of
the Socrates-Erasmus programme. We may at some stage decide that
a follow-up report would be desirable.
Another issue, affecting the future of the entire
programme, has been drawn to the attention of the Committee by
an article in the Times Educational Supplement of 29 October.
It appears that the disagreement between the Council and the European
Parliament over the scale of funding for Socrates II has not yet
been settled. Our understanding is that the Conciliation Committee
is to meet on 9 November, but that if a compromise is not reached
then there is a danger that the programme could collapse.
We concluded in our Report that the programme
is an "investment", which "benefits the European
Community as a whole; individual countries within the Community;
universities; and the students who take part in the programme"
(paragraph 191). The Government response endorsed this conclusion.
We also noted that "to propose ambitious programmes without
commensurate funding would be to build castles in the air"
(paragraph 189). While not wishing to make a precise judgement
on the appropriate level of funding, we urge the Government both
to show flexibility in its negotiations with the European Parliament
and to encourage other Member States to be equally flexible, so
as to ensure the survival of the programme.
4 November 1999
Letter from Baroness Blackstone, Minister
of State, Department for Education and Employment to Lord Tordoff,
Chairman of the Committee
Thank you for your letter of 4 November 1999
expressing the Select Committee's concern about the participation
levels of UK students in the current Socrates-Erasmus Programme
and asking about the arrangements for publicity for the next phase
of the Socrates Programme.
I should like to comment first on the position
of student participation in Erasmus. It is too early for any measures
taken since the Committee's proceedings to be reflected in current
participation rates. The current imbalance is due in part to the
attractiveness of UK institutions to students from the EU and
the opportunity to learn in English. Although the imbalance was
greater in 1997-98, there was actually a small increase over the
previous year in the numbers of UK students participating (at
about the rate to be expected of our population as a proportion
of the EU total). The absolute fall predicted for 1998-99 is clearly
a cause for concern and we recognise that there are likely to
be many reasons for this. However, we are far from complacent
about the situation and have asked the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council
to consider ways of improving the situation.
Obviously, the Department also needs to play
a part and one of the measures taken already includes the revision
by my Department of our free booklet, The European Choice,
which informs potential students of the positive benefits to them
of participating in Erasmus exchanges. We have sent out over 42,000
copies of this booklet for potential students, and it is also
available on the Department's website. We are currently obtaining
customer feedback to see what further improvements can be made.
The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council also produce a booklet entitled
Unlock your potential with an Erasmus Experience. They
have reviewed the information that they provide for students and
they have conducted a number of promotional activities designed
to encourage UK participation.
You asked about the progress made by the Central
Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, to encourage the
use of language assistants. In consultation with specialist modern
languages advisers and its sister organisation, the Centre for
Information on Language Teaching, the Central Bureau has produced
promotional material for all schools and colleges setting out
the benefits of foreign language assistants to teachers and students.
Currently the Bureau is seeking to refresh the programme by means
of a revised marketing campaign.
There has, however, been a disappointing decline
in the number of UK modern foreign language students applying
to be English language assistants abroad. Again, there are likely
to be a number of reasons for this, including a wider range of
opportunities for language undergraduates wishing to spend time
in another country.
In an attempt to tackle this issue, the Central
Bureau, with support from the Teacher Training Agency and St Martin's
College, Lancaster, are now working together to provide induction
and in-service support for students appointed as English language
assistants. The aim of this strategy is to encourage more students
to apply to train to become teachers of modern languages in this
country. The Bureau is also considering the possibility of a computerised
application process and is examining with colleagues in France
the idea of validating experience as a language assistant towards
the development of a portfolio of qualifications.
You also asked about the improvement of language
teaching in primary schools. Practical help is to be given to
primary schools in teaching foreign languages under a project
announced in March this year by Charles Clarke, the then Minister
for Schools Standards. It is managed on behalf of the Department
by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research.
Over two years the project will aim to develop
high quality curriculum materials for teachers, develop and disseminate
models of good practice, establish a network of practitioners
making particular use of information and communication technology,
and review and co-ordinate training for teachers of modern foreign
languages in primary schools. The project aims to engage the widest
possible range of partners in language education, so as to raise
the profile of primary languages, and to bring coherence to a
field where practice varies considerably.
Finally, I should like to return to the question
of the implementation of the second phase of the Socrates programme.
The conciliation process which was applied to the decision has
now been completed and it is likely that the decision will be
formally adopted within the next week or two. This means that
we can push ahead with our plans to promote the new programme
within the UK.
The Commission is planning to undertake a high
profile launch of all three new programmes: Socrates; Leonardo
da Vinci and Youth for Europe in Lisbon in March 2000. The UK
launch of the Socrates programme will take place shortly afterwards.
The Central Bureau and UK Socrates-Erasmus Council are working
together on the plans for a launch event, which will then be supported
by a number of seminars and workshops throughout the country.
We intend to use this as a platform to raise the profile of the
programme among institutions and potential participants by focusing
on the real benefits that participation can bring to raising standards,
broadening horizons and employability. I would be pleased to send
you information about the launch plans in the new year when more
of the detail is in place.
8 December 1999
13 27th Report, Session 1997-98, HL Paper 116. Back