Government's response to the Eighth Report from
the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07
The Select Committee's recommendations are in bold
The Government's response is in plain text.
Some of the recommendations and responses have been
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
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
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
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 periods3 or
6 monthsrather 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
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;
networks for translating and interpreting based at the University
of Salford and University of Leeds respectively; and
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
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.
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
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
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