Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2007
Q640 Mr Pelling: Thank you very much,
Chairman, for allowing me to be extemporary and off the beaten
track of the questions, and also to say my daughter is studying
currently at a university in Japan, so I think she is part of
these flows of people backwards and forwards. I was very taken
by the figure of the 72% of foreign nationals you said are doing
finance research, positions, as it were, within our education.
It is very concerning, I would say, that when finance is such
a big part of the UK economy these days such a small percentage
of UK students is taking up those places. Are they at some kind
of disadvantage, in terms of taking up those places; is there
something that employers should be doing to encourage more UK
citizens to be pursuing the route to finance through taking up
research positions? Is it something currently that is wrong with
us that it is such a small percentage? It strikes me that if employers
were to put a very strong emphasis, as I suspect they do in the
City, in terms of taking people away who are very highly qualified,
the City of London would become even more international in its
approach and the opportunities for UK students to take advantage
of that very strong, wealth-creating part of the economy will
be further lost?
Mr Davidson: One always has to
treat such statistics with a degree of care, because what we do
not know is the number of new courses which have been started
because of the students wanting to come here to study; in some
sense, a very obvious place for people to come and study finance
is the UK. It may well be actually that the capacity and opportunity
for British students has expanded because of the flow of foreign
students into there. I do not know the answer to that. What is
clear, it seems to me, is that the opportunity for British students,
by studying here, being given an international experience simply
because of the flow of students in and out is very, very important.
If they are not going to go and study elsewhere then they have
got to get that experience somewhere if they are going to be competitive
within the broader world. I agree absolutely with the issue around
language though. While, of course, it is true that English language
is a competitive advantage for British students, being monolingual
is a huge disadvantage and there is very sound research which
indicates the sheer disadvantage which students are suffering
now from not being able to speak more than one language. That
is equally true in finance. Again, I do not have the numbers to
hand, but you just have to look at the numbers of foreign graduates
now working within the City; what advantage are they bringing,
it is a broader international perspective, a broader cultural
perspective and a wider range of language as well as other competence
that they bring in, and our students have got to be able to match
Professor Brown: It is the language
of money which is the problem. Basically what happens is, after
you have done your degree for three years, you have gone to a
good university, you get snapped up by City firms offering you
large amounts of money, so why would you bother going on to do
a Master's degree or research in that field; you would not, so
you go overseas to recruit in. I think that is the primary problem.
If the City were not so buoyant you would get more people going
into the research area.
Q641 Mr Marsden: Some of the things
that we have just heard might render this question a little bit
narrow-minded or redundant, but we have had an enormous amount
of discussion, as witnesses will be aware, and this Committee
has just done a major inquiry into the whole issue of citizenship
education and in that we touched very briefly on citizenship education
in universities. If we are talking about the ambassador role,
however changed it is, do British universities need to be looking
more specifically at how they communicate some of the values of
British society in their courses? I do not mean a sort of "These
are the top 10 British values that you might all want to come
and imbibe during your three years in Britain." I am talking
about slightly broader issues, relating back to one of the things
that we talked about earlier, in terms of academic inquiry. Martin,
I do not know whether you would like to comment on that initially,
and perhaps Bernadette, from your experience?
Mr Davidson: I suppose my starting-point
would be that values almost inevitably inform the nature of the
study, the nature of the course, the way in which you both create
and then run courses, so somehow distinguishing yourself as an
institution from the values which inform your society, which go
into your make-up, seems to me to be probably a false premise.
Q642 Mr Marsden: It is a bit like
passive smoking, when you are forced to imbibe it by the nature
of the forces there?
Mr Davidson: I think there is
an aspect which may be allowed.
Q643 Mr Marsden: Perhaps that was
not the right allusion, but you know what I mean?
Mr Davidson: Perhaps not the right
one. I guess the question which worries me more is the extent
to which the financial imperatives of bringing in more and more
students may drive institutions into poor practices, weaker recruitment
standards, weaker academic standards, and I think this is an issue
which a lot of institutions are very aware of, the need to maintain
those standards. In essence, in a globally competitive market,
it is about institutions hanging together, because if you do not
hang together you hang separately.
Q644 Mr Marsden: Bernadette, is it
Britishness, however nebulously defined, which has an attraction
for students who come here, or is it simply the hard nuts and
bolts of the way in which they get qualifications?
Professor Robinson: I think utilitarian
values rate very high in the decisions students make to come here;
they see it as a route to a good job, and I think that is the
primary value. However, I think when they are here the areas where
maybe some of the biggest changes take place, I would not call
those things directly British, but things like arguments which
are based on evidence, learning to use arguments which are based
on evidence rather than ideology, learning to examine a problem
from different perspectives instead of making assumptions about
the nature of a problem, I think these are some of the big changes
that take place for students.
Q645 Mr Marsden: Challenging academics?
I was always very struck when, in my previous incarnation, I used
to deal with German academics, German historians; whenever they
stood up and delivered a paper you had to wait for about four
paragraphs of indebtedness to their professors over the past 30
years before you got to the argument, whereas British academics
tend to tear apart their supervisor in the first paragraph. Is
that an aspect of this as well?
Professor Robinson: Yes. I do
not know if John remembers a famous Open University course, which
was produced, called `That is Europe'. Each part of the course
was written by a team from a different European country, and the
discourse conventions were so different it was almost impossible
to produce a coherent course, and the preamble from some countries
was so long there was no time left for actually developing an
argument. I think the nature of discourse and argument is different
and people can learn different conventions and learn to understand
the assumptions behind their own conventions, in doing this. I
think this is one of the values of intercultural groups.
Q646 Chairman: Why should it be,
listening to some of the things that you, not just you, Bernadette,
but that some of you were saying, it seems always that we are
hell bent on a different kind of university ethos. It is all about
being, okay, better linguists, better competitors, adding more
value, being able to earn more money perhaps. I always tell the
story about walking across the hallowed turf of one of the most
prestigious Oxford Colleges and asking the Master whether any
of his students actually went into teaching, and he said, "No,
no; they all go into the City." I did wonder why we were
educating those people to a high level just to go into the City.
Is not there a kind of rat race you are describing that we should
be part of, is it not encouraged by university students coming
from overseas? Bernadette says, "It's only about because
they want to get a better job and earn more money;" is not
that actually getting away from some of the values that we thought
higher education was about? Is it not about other things? Should
not there be something in a university which says something like
giving back to the society which produced it, says something about
going to be a town planner or a social worker; not going to the
City of London? Is not that all disappearing because of this thing
you seem to applaud, Phillip?
Professor Brown: I certainly do
not applaud it and I know it is a huge problem for us, but what
I am saying is that we have to begin to understand the problem
properly and I do not think we have spent enough time understanding
what the issues really are. This issue of people going to the
City and not using their knowledge, it is going back to the public
good kind of argument, is it not, about the university? The thing
is that the labour market has become so competitive that many
people seem to be in higher education primarily as acquisitors.
Basically, they want a credential and they want to get a credential
that will give them as much value as possible within that job
market, and they will trade for whatever they can get. That is
a reflection of our broader culture. It is no good us just blaming
the universities for all of this, it reflects the society in which
we live. We are so driven by materialism in this kind of sense
that we have forgotten these broader kinds of values that we have.
The students themselves, I think, have a problem, and it is this:
how do you behave in an alternative way; what are the alternatives?
If there is this positional competition then not to play it means
you have no chance of getting a decent career or a decent job,
you could argue; maybe you still might be able to get into teaching,
or something. I said it as a joke, of course. There are many areas,
when you are talking about the upper end, where they believe there
is competition and which they have to be part of. For example,
with our own children, what advice do you give them these days;
what do you say, "Don't worry about that kind of positional
competition, about getting A-stars at A level, it doesn't really
matter, because what we want you to be is a really good human
being and we want you to contribute to society"? That is
a problem that we have got.
Chairman: There is a difference between
going into certain professions and with all the wonderful jobs
in local government, town planning, in the Arts Council, let alone
the British Council, all sorts of jobs that people do which add
value and achieve wonderful things.
Q647 Mr Pelling: Some people get
a lot of money?
Professor Brown: These are very
important jobs and we should encourage more people to do them;
but in terms of describing my understanding of what I think is
going on then I think there is a broader problem.
Professor Brennan: May I give
some counter-data, to follow up, this is based on two large surveys
of UK graduates three or four years after they had been in higher
education. This was a question they were asked about what benefits
they felt they had got from higher education. Round about 50%
of them thought they had got a very good job, soon after higher
education. This was much lower than the European average. However,
60-odd, 70% felt that their long-term career prospects had been
enhanced, but nearly 90% reckoned that they had developed personally,
as individuals, the personal development and change from their
higher education experience had been extremely high. That was
perceived to be the biggest impact and one that they valued most,
and, in fact, one where actually the UK graduates were reporting
probably amongst the highest in these international studies. I
think that we do have to be careful not necessarily to impute
values to students, and whilst I think there is quite a lot of
research around which is saying that today's students are very
instrumental, I do not think necessarily that precludes attaching
a lot of importance to a lot of other values as well. One of the
things, while I am speaking, I might just mention, because it
is coming back to, I think, the Britishness and the citizenship,
is the social and cultural elements of the student experience
and I think others have mentioned the international nature of
this. I would remark though that I think on some campuses the
only students who are around to have a social and cultural experience
are the international ones, because all the home students are
busily working down at the supermarket to pay their fees. I think
the extent to which the student experience is changing now is
another aspect we have to take account of.
Chairman: David, who has been extremely
patient, will take us on to our last section, on mobility.
Q648 Mr Chaytor: Can I pursue this
question of the apparently limited interest of UK students in
studying abroad and ask specifically what are Cardiff University
and Nottingham University doing about this? If we assume it is
a good thing that the HE experience is internationalised, is there
positive action from Cardiff and Nottingham?
Professor Brown: I think Nottingham
seems to be very good at it and I think we are really bad at it.
We do not have a lot of overseas students. I think it is about
10, 12%, and I am not sure we want to increase that.
Q649 Chairman: You have a lot of
Professor Brown: We have a lot
of English people in Cardiff, that is right, we do have, from
the South East particularly. I think there is a big issue about
how we address that international marketplace and I think now
we are trying to do this.
Q650 Mr Chaytor: I am sorry, maybe
we are talking at cross-purposes. I am looking at the question
of British students studying abroad?
Professor Brown: I am sorry; it
is round the other way. It is part of their experience. I cannot
talk about the University generally but I can talk about our School,
which is that we are desperately trying to go out there and sign
agreements with other, and this is quite important, of course,
in terms of understanding this discussion, what we would regard
as leading universities elsewhere for the exchange of students.
We have the same problem as everybody else, which is that students
come to us from overseas but getting our students to go overseas
is a problem, and I think it goes back to John's point.
Q651 Mr Chaytor: What is the problem
for your students; what is the root cause of this?
Professor Brown: I think part
of the problem is the three-year degree, that it does not give
them much time.
Q652 Mr Chaytor: They have got three
summer vacations to get off their backsides and go and visit some
interesting European places?
Professor Brown: You can do that,
but, of course, if you have got student fees to pay . . .
Q653 Mr Chaytor: Which they do not
have to now, because it is deferred?
Professor Brown: They have still
got to live, and I think they are in debt over time.
Q654 Mr Chaytor: They have loans
to help them live?
Professor Brown: Most students
have big problems, which is why they are working during their
university studies to try to keep going during their three years.
If you say, "Okay, we're going to extend it to four years,
because we think it's a really good idea for you to go off somewhere
else," I think it is a really good idea. I think virtually
everybody should have overseas experience, or at least some kind
of sandwich element, with a degree, but actually implementing
that is extremely difficult, and there is the language issue,
that unless it is the US or Australia, or somewhere, they have
not got the language skills to be able to take up the opportunity.
Q655 Mr Chaytor: The language problem
is historic and that is not going to be changed overnight until
the changes in the primary curriculum filter through in 10 years
or more. On the other issue, the financial issue, is there a stream
of funding within Cardiff University which is set aside to support
students going abroad?
Professor Brown: No, we have not
got the resources to do that; maybe we could give them £50,
or something. It is not going to help; it is a really big problem,
Q656 Chairman: Why is not the British
Mr Davidson: The Erasmus scheme,
of course, we do administer now, and the Erasmus scheme does provide
Q657 Mr Chaytor: How many students
a year go abroad with Erasmus?
Mr Davidson: Seven thousand; that
was in 2005, I think, which is the latest figure.
Q658 Mr Chaytor: Do you have any
figures, Martin, of the total number of UK students going abroad
as part of their course, or would anybody have those figures?
Mr Davidson: I am not aware of
any; whatever it is is anecdotal. What we are seeing is a decline.
We have got figures on declining numbers of students taking up
Erasmus places, so it has dropped from 12,000 to 7,000 in 10 years.
Q659 Mr Chaytor: Is that a reduction
in the overall programme?
Mr Davidson: No, that is a reduction
in British student take-up.