Select Committee on Education and Skills Fifth Special Report


Appendix 2


Government's response to the Eighth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07

The Select Committee's recommendations are in bold text.

The Government's response is in plain text.

Some of the recommendations and responses have been grouped.

1. We agree that increased internationalisation of higher education potentially brings great benefits, both economic and otherwise, for the UK and its universities.

The Government agrees entirely. Internationalisation can take many forms and brings many benefits. It includes the increased cultural richness of our campuses through the presence of international students and staff, the expansion and diversification of curricula to encompass the knowledge of other parts of the world, it is the contribution that research collaboration across country boundaries can make to advancing knowledge and the development of goods and services. Education exports make a significant contribution to the economy. A report[4] published in September by the British Council estimates that the value of education exports to the UK in 2003-04 amounted to more than £8.5bn. When private sector training, consultancy and education-related goods and services are included that figure rises to nearly £28bn.

2. We agree that collaboration and partnership working are vital for the future development of the international dimension in higher education. We welcome projects such as the UK India Education and Research initiative and recommend that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the British Council and their partners in the university sector explore the possibility of developing similar arrangements for China and other countries. Joint ventures are likely to involve the development of joint courses and undertaking joint curriculum development, as there will be no further approvals of joint campuses until the Chinese government has assessed the success of those established so far.

3. We recommend that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the British Council explore with institutions in China and in the UK how best to build on initiatives already taken to improve collaboration in higher education, including vocational education and the development of pedagogy. As part of that exercise, the Government should provide funding to facilitate collaboration, including the establishment of a major, prestigious foundation, in partnership with the private sector, to provide scholarships and fellowships. These are issues which should be discussed at the high level UK/China summit which we understand is to be held in China in September.

The Committee draws an interesting comparison between the UK's education initiatives with India and those with China. The UK Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) was developed in response to a worrying decline in UK-India education links. UKIERI received strong endorsement from both the UK and Indian Prime Ministers that enabled it to gain widespread financial support from within government, the education sector and business which has helped maximise impact.

In contrast, UK-China links started from a much lower baseline and have developed in a more piecemeal fashion. That has not prevented many UK institutions developing links in China outside of a formal government framework. However, fresh impetus to government to government links has been provided by the establishment of annual Ministerial education summit meetings between the UK and China. These summits have produced a more coherent framework for joint action including: mutual recognition of degree level qualifications; cooperation on raising the profile of China Studies in the UK (including Mandarin Teaching); the establishment of a jointly funded PhD and post doctoral scholarship scheme in science and technology; and a Graduate Work Experience programme. The second phase of the Prime Minister's Initiative on International education also includes a funding strand for developing collaboration and partnership working between UK and Chinese education institutions.

We accept the Committee's analysis that we should move existing initiatives under a more recognisable UK branding along similar lines to UKIERI and will raise this with the Chinese at the next Education Summit meeting scheduled in October. The development of a more coherent UK education strategy for China and mechanisms for engaging with China's education sector, with clear deliverables, is something that both the Government and the British Council fully supports.

The Government will consider the Committee's recommendation for a scholarship scheme but it should be noted that there is already a plethora of UK scholarship schemes available to talented Chinese students, including the DIUS sponsored UK-China Scholarship for Excellence and the Dorothy Hodgkin programmes. Some UK universities also offer exclusive access to scholarships for Chinese students. Although the UK cannot hope to compete against the financial muscle exercised by the United States in attracting high calibre Chinese postgraduate research students, the time may be ripe to undertake a strategic review of the UK's total scholarship provision under a common UK brand. It should be noted too that there are opportunities for the private sector to support the Chevening scholarships, which are already a well known and prestigious brand in China.

4. The provision of high quality post-graduate education is essential to enable the HE sector to thrive. If the UK higher education sector is to succeed in attracting the most highly qualified students to study here at post-graduate level, it needs to work with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to provide more systematic support.

The Government recognises the importance of attracting high quality postgraduate students and researchers and works closely with the HE sector to maintain the UK's reputation as an excellent place to study at postgraduate level. We support RCUK work to encourage mobility and address any barriers that exist.

It is important that HE institutions do all they can to ensure that international students have a high quality experience whilst studying in the UK. This is one of the major themes of the Prime Minister's international education initiative (PMI) on which the Government is working closely with the sector. One issue where institutions are seeking to do more is to ensure that international students are fully integrated with home students to the benefit of both.

The Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF) strategy[5] noted that the support for international mobility provided by the UK is comparable with that of its competitors and that, in the broadest sense, UK support in this area is having a positive impact. It also proposed the creation of an alumni network of fellows who have been working in the UK to ensure that in the longer term potentially valuable collaborative relationships are not lost. GSIF works across government and more widely on issues of international scientific collaboration and mobility and consideration is being given to the development of a more systematic dialogue with the HE sector.

The Research Councils are taking action to raise the visibility of their support for International holders of research fellowships as a priority. RCUK have launched an International Fellowship Association for overseas nationals holding Research Council fellowship awards as a pilot for a single UK scheme, including fellows of other funders. The intention is to consult and work with these fellows to build the association based on their priorities with regard to mobility and maintaining connections with the UK, in particular the provision of relevant information on funding opportunities. We will also consider extending membership of the association to UK nationals who intend to work overseas.

5. The problem of students' unwillingness to study abroad can be addressed in a number of ways. One is for the HE sector to be more strategic, to decide as a matter of policy that more students should spend time in another country and aim to facilitate that. Another is flexibility. Many students would welcome the opportunity to study abroad for shorter periods—3 or 6 months—rather than a whole year. Having a proper credit transfer system would clearly also be of great benefit. The situation needs to be addressed rapidly to ensure that the UK does not lose out in both cultural and economic terms.

The Government is clear that a period of study abroad can provide real benefits and agrees with the Committee that there are several ways in which more could be done to encourage students to take up such opportunities. For instance, the Government continues to work with the British Council and other stakeholders in promoting mobility and addressing real or perceived barriers to mobility, with a view to increasing participation. There are encouraging signs that demand for Erasmus places has gone up. The Government has also consulted with a number of Vice-Chancellors on what more might be done to help students take up mobility opportunities, and how good practice might be spread across the sector. This resulted in the Department for Innovation Universities and Skills working with the Council for Industry and Higher Education to put together some examples of best practice in the way in which higher education institutions are internationalising their provision and promoting outward student mobility. The ensuing report "Global Horizons for UK Students" was published on 18 July 2007 and provides a guide to what some of the most outward-looking institutions are doing and to how the perceived barriers to overseas study can be overcome. The Government would encourage institutions to be imaginative and consider how they can support mobility, including shorter periods of study abroad and making use of some of the additional revenue that they gain from variable fees.

The Government also agrees that credit can be a useful tool to enable transfer between programmes or institutions and that it can assist in removing obstacles to academic mobility. The Government commends the work of the Burgess Group and welcomes its recommendation that the higher education sector should work towards a national credit framework for England. The sector has now begun the process of producing such a framework and the Government is encouraging all institutions to credit rate their programmes as soon as possible in line with the Burgess recommendations.

6. Underlying all of these issues is the need for a concerted drive to improve foreign language capacity. This will require action in schools, but universities should also provide intensive short courses to enable students to undertake study abroad. Some languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, should continue to be treated as strategically important subjects to ensure that capacity in them is retained.

Languages are of crucial strategic importance to the UK. There is therefore a need to increase the number of people studying languages at all levels of the education system. This is being taken forward through the DCSF-led National Languages Strategy which has been given added impetus by Lord Dearing's review of languages published in March 2007. Over time these will deliver improvements in the number of school leavers with language skills, some of whom will continue with their language studies.

At the HE level, foreign languages and area studies remain strategic subjects. A successful bid for funding of a range of language related projects from the HEFCE Strategic Development Fund has been developed, with £4.5 million now available for these projects over the next four years. The projects, under the "Routes into Languages" banner, include the setting up of

·  Regional consortia of HEIs, colleges and schools to stimulate demand for languages. Four so far have been established in the West Midlands, South East, North West and North East;

·  National networks for translating and interpreting based at the University of Salford and University of Leeds respectively; and

·  Three research projects on community languages; the role that languages can play in international events; and language and enterprise.

Following the review of languages by Lord Dearing, further funding has been made available to allow a further five regional consortia to be set up, enabling every Government region to have one. Four of these have been approved so far bringing the total of regional consortia up to eight.

7. International students bring academic, cultural and financial benefits, and the majority of universities have international strategies which recognise that. The HE sector needs, however, to guard against the risk that the recruitment of international students will be seen as driven by short terms gains in fee income by ensuring that the teaching and research offered are of high quality. Building genuine partnerships and engaging in thoughtful collaborations will lead to more sustainable relationships with institutions and students from other countries.

8. Universities need to ensure that their partnerships in other countries are designed to provide high quality education in order to be sustainable for the long term.

We recognise that international students bring academic, cultural and financial benefits far beyond institutions' income from course fees, and that building genuine and lasting partnerships is crucial to securing the UK's position as partner of choice in international education. Launched in April 2006, the second phase of the Prime Minister's Initiative in International Education aims to secure the UK's position as a leader in international education and sustain the managed growth of UK international education delivered both in the UK and overseas. Whilst the first phase of PMI (from 1999 to 2005) concentrated on increasing the number of international students coming to the UK, the second phase has a different focus which emphasises the importance of high quality international collaboration.

The aim of the Strategic Alliances and Partnerships Strand of PMI2 is to increase the level of engagement and collaboration between the UK and designated priority countries in high quality research; grow the number of vocational, undergraduate and postgraduate programmes delivered collaboratively between the UK and other countries and increase the number of UK students studying overseas. It operates at a government and policy level, enabling the UK to engage pro-actively and collaboratively in addressing some of the global education challenges, and at individual institution level, building strong strategic alliances and partnerships which will jointly and creatively address these challenges in practice.

At a government and policy level, integrated programmes of activity will take place for each of the priority countries. Eight policy seminars will take place in 2007-08 in China, East Asia, Pakistan and Africa. Key themes identified for these are quality; leadership; Public-Private Partnerships; the role of HE/FE in knowledge economies and skills development; student and staff exchange programmes and international student mobility; internationalisation of HE and FE; research & research cooperation; and promoting social inclusion and mobility.

At an institutional level, the key tools for engagement will be collaboration projects targeted at promoting research collaboration, delivery of joint or dual awards, vocational programmes in target countries and outward student mobility projects.

Funds will also be available in 2007-08 to encourage UK institutions to develop international cooperative activities with potential partner institutions located in priority countries.

9. We recommend that the Government reviews as a matter of urgency the current arrangements for fee support payable to institutions for part-time students and the availability of support for part-time students themselves. For the future, we believe that students should be seen as one group with a variety of needs for support rather than being arbitrarily divided into categories of part-time and full-time.

The full and part-time student support packages are different because the needs of the students are different. Full-time students' first call on their time is their studies, which is not the case for part-time students, who must fit their studies in alongside their employment or caring responsibilities. Many of these students are in full-time employment, with many holding well-paid jobs, also in many cases their employers are contributing to support their study costs. The Government must ensure that the support provided is closely focussed to gain maximum benefit.

The part-time support package is based on grants, which the student does not have to repay, to contribute to both course fees, and the costs related to studying (e.g. books and travel). Our experience of part-time loans is that part-time students tend to be more debt adverse than their full-time counterparts, and take-up under the previous part-time loan system was low, which is one of the reasons we changed the package from loan to grant in 2004. A survey carried out by Professor Claire Callender for Universities UK and GuildHE, published November 2006, indicated that only 38% of the part-time students surveyed would be prepared to take out an income contingent loan if this was offered.[6]

The fee grant received by part-time students was increased by 27% in 2006-07, making it the most generous package the Government has ever offered part-time students. In addition to this more money was directed towards part-time students by increasing the amount allocated via the Access to Learning Fund in order that it will grow from £3 million as it was in 2005 to £12 million in 2007-08.This money is targeted so that higher education institutions can give hardship support to help secure participation from students facing the greatest financial difficulties. In 2005-06 DfES and HEFCE agreed to provide an additional £20 million each in institutional funding (£40 million); half of this was to cover 2006-07 and half for 2007-08. This money is intended to encourage participation and improve provision for part-time students from the most under-represented groups. This demonstrates the Government's continued support for part-time higher education.

10. We recommend that our successors on the committee that scrutinises the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills should continue our inquiry and report on the issues of the structure of the HE sector; university funding (including levels of investment in research in comparison with competitor countries); and the role of universities over the next decade.

This recommendation has been noted.


4   The value of UK education and training exports: an update-Dr Pamela Lenton, University of Sheffield. Back

5   http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file34726.pdf Back

6   Part-time students and part-time study in higher education in the UK-Strand 3: a survey of students' attitudes and experiences of part-time study and its costs, 2005-06. Back


 
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