Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2007
Q660 Mr Chaytor: So there are vacancies
on the Erasmus programme?
Mr Davidson: There are vacancies
available and money not spent on it. On taking over the programme,
we have taken on a commitment to increase it to 43,000 students
by 2012, which does not fill me with enthusiasm, I have to say;
but the barriers are real. We did some research in 2003 with HEFCE
and the barriers were language, finance and credit transfer. Language
we have mentioned already, the finance has been mentioned and
the other issue is the universities' preparedness to accept credit
transfer from experience elsewhere, and, to date, the universities
have shown themselves remarkably reluctant to accept credit transfer.
Q661 Chairman: Was not Burgess involved?
On the one hand, we have had credit transfer with Burgess looking
at it, is not there a Burgess report, domestically, in the UK
universities? On the other hand, we have got the Bologna Process;
has not that helped at all, that this may be a lesson? You have
got rid of some of the Chevening scholarships, have you not; they
have declined in number?
Mr Davidson: I am sorry, but Chevening
is inward rather than outward.
Q662 Chairman: There is only one
Mr Davidson: Yes. On Erasmus;
this is about average flow. They are two-way but each nation has
an Erasmus agent who manages the flow out from their country into
other countries. The flow into the UK, on Erasmus, is about double
the outward flow, but that is administered by the national agencies.
Q663 Mr Chaytor: Can I ask Bernadette
about Nottingham. Does the existence of your campus in China have
any advantage for home students in Nottingham?
Professor Robinson: It does, but,
as I said, I am not here to speak on behalf of Nottingham, but
I can get that information and send it, about the mobility of
students. I think Nottingham is fairly active; how successful
it is I would not be able to say, in terms of numbers.
Q664 Mr Chaytor: Could I ask again,
the growth of the decision by some European universities to offer
degree programmes taught in English presumably is directed at
Asian students to divert them from the UK, but is this likely
to have an advantage for UK students, in encouraging them to study
in Europe, or is that just not an issue at all? Is it in any way
going to be attractive for UK students to, say, take a degree
in English in The Netherlands or Germany as against here?
Professor Brennan: My perception
is that this is something which is happening predominantly at
the postgraduate level and the take-up at postgraduate level of
UK students is still relatively low compared with the European
norm. If we did see a movement and a growth at the taught Master's
level, in other words, Stage 2 Bologna, that could be, arguably,
the point at which this sort of mobility could start taking off,
in the sense that the provision is certainly growing, as you say,
in quite a lot of European countries, although again there is
still this, I think, central problem which has already been referred
to: is the Master's stage a one-year or a two-year programme?
Q665 Mr Chaytor: Does this have any
impact; the question of the need to internationalise the undergraduate
and postgraduate programmes, does it have any impact on the one-year
Master's problem, because if there is a concern that the one-year
UK Master's is under threat because of the Bologna Process, would
not building onto that some international component deal with
this problem of credits and transfer? Has anyone examined that?
Professor Brennan: I do not know.
My view is that there are question-marks about the sustainability
of one-year Master's courses in the long run, and that would be
quite an interesting way of extending it.
Q666 Mr Chaytor: Could I pursue with
Martin the question of credit transfer, the transferability of
the credits. Do you think that the way to improve the situation
is largely through bilateral arrangements between individual universities,
or do you think it can only be improved with top-down initiatives
Mr Davidson: I think that the
scale of the problem is such that probably it needs a multifaceted
approach across the board. Certainly it is the case that individual
universities, I think, need to do more to encourage student flows.
The whole of the recruitment process when students actually go
into university, the opportunity needs to be part of their consideration.
I think that we need to begin to build in school, at sixth form
level, a further exploration of opportunities through mobility.
I think also it does require a greater top-down approach, which
clearly indicates the advantage which this sort of mobility programme
can deliver. I think it is quite important to recognise that the
existing students, those 7,000 under Erasmus, which are the ones
that we have data for, are almost exclusively from pre-1992 universities,
in other words, the old research universities, and they are very,
very predominantly from a small ethnic section, in other words,
white, middle-class students, who are taking it up. There is virtually
no ethnic minority take-up of the opportunity, there is very limited
take-up from the new universities, and all that, I think, does
indicate some potentially quite important social issues about
the mobility of British students as well.
Q667 Mr Chaytor: Erasmus provides
financial support to students who go abroad?
Mr Davidson: It does, yes.
Q668 Mr Chaytor: The blockage here
may be to do with language but it is not necessarily to do with
financial support; but is it not an issue for the British Council
in terms of marketing of the Erasmus programme if the take-up
is confined largely to pre-1992 universities?
Mr Davidson: It is. I would say,
in defence of my institution, we took over the marketing only
in January so we have got a bit of a way to go yet; but, yes,
there is an issue about marketing. There is also a slight tendency
to blame the students for not wanting to go overseas. I think
we have to start from the point that students make pretty coherent
decisions about where their future best lies, and if it is not
to have an overseas experience at the undergraduate level then
I think we ought to be asking the question why it is not of value
Q669 Chairman: Where is the leadership
in the sector? Where would you expect the leadership to come from
in the sector?
Mr Davidson: I think the leadership
is going to have to come from two areas. Clearly, there is a responsibility
on my own organisation; if we believe in international mobility,
which we do, then we have got to start doing much more to publicise
it. I think the institutions themselves have got to start seeing
value in that and that means accepting the value of the overseas
experience. Whether or not it is a university experience or some
other experience, work attachment, for example, a number of universities
are beginning to look at that as an opportunity as well, which
might take up the issue about being able to do something during
long summer vacations, etc. Also I think there is an issue for
government, at the centre, also to start demonstrating the value
which is attached to this sort of experience for students.
Q670 Mr Chaytor: Is Erasmus the only
programme that would provide financial support for students to
study abroad as part of an undergraduate degree?
Mr Davidson: As far as I am aware,
it is the only coherent programme. Individual institutions may
have their individual programmes. There are other European mobility
programmes at different levels but not at the undergraduate level.
Q671 Mr Chaytor: Erasmus is for an
academic year only?
Mr Davidson: It is for a variety
of different periods; they are small periods of time.
Q672 Chairman: You can go for a month
or a term?
Mr Davidson: Yes. You can go for
a year, if it is appropriate, yes.
Q673 Chairman: John, why has not
the Open University rallied the troops on this and said "This
is all disgraceful; the carbon footprint of all this international
travel for study is awful"? Could not a lot of this be done
by distance learning? Research, I think we were getting there,
but having a relative who is an academic, a young academic, describing
how in a short time, 10 years, the nature of the research has
been transformed by the accessibility, you do not have to go to
the wonderful institutions with great libraries any longer, you
can actually sit at your PC and get the original documentation
on your PC, so is not collaboration worldwide, in terms of research,
so much more possible? That is the future, is it not; is it, Phil,
is it, John?
Professor Brennan: As with other
colleagues, I could not speak particularly for my University.
Essentially, I think I would agree with the proposition that the
possibilities of international contacts, exchanges, via the Internet,
without leaving home, are huge, including the Open University
is doing a lot, it has a huge number of international students
and, of course, there are all sorts of potential mixed-mode experiences.
We are talking about a time of a year abroad; if you can link
a period abroad with some kind of e-learning experience which
is internationalised, simply being abroad for a week actually
might do it. I think that technology gives us a lot of new models.
Chairman: Someone going back to brush
up their rather poor French and seeing the quality of the technology
you can have to help you learn, on your own, I am just amazed
how the world has changed. Should we not have a new University
of Sangatte, not very far away, intensively teaching language
to English students who have not learned any languages yet?
Mr Pelling: Some people might think that
Sangatte is too close.
Q674 Chairman: The world has changed.
What is the British Council doing to lobby, to turn this around,
and say, "We could actually do something about the proficiency
in languages in this country"? I go to your places in foreign
countries and it is wonderful, you have got micro universities
there, teaching people to learn English. You have all those techniques,
why do you not turn them round, on this country; you are not allowed
Mr Davidson: Probably one or two
people would object a little bit if we did. I think that what
we are doing really is looking at how we can use IT techniques,
virtual learning techniques, to widen the opportunity for students,
both in this country and in others, principally, I have to say,
at the school level rather than at university; but the sheer number
of school links and other links which are now taking place, across
multiple countries, is enormous and something which I think we
should continue to grow.
Q675 Chairman: The OU was restricted
on foreign language teaching, was it not, at one stage?
Professor Brennan: I am not sure;
we do it now, certainly.
Q676 Chairman: Do you? I thought,
in the beginning, you were frightened that you would be seen as
unfair competition with the private sector: no?
Professor Brennan: I am sorry,
I am not aware of that.
Q677 Chairman: We have come to the
end of our session. Is there anything you have not been asked
or would like to say before we close this session: what have we
Professor Brown: There is just
one thing, and thank you for giving the opportunity to broaden
out the range of things that we have discussed, it has been very
helpful, for me anyway, at least I have been able to say what
I wanted to say, which is good. There is one additional comment
I would like to make. We have not talked at all about differences
in the graduate experience within the UK. One of the things which
struck us very much from our research is the ways in which these
leading companies, you would think that their big issue would
be the wealth of talent, so if you look at the massive expansion
of higher education around the world, that is their big concern,
what are they going to do with all this talent, yet do they talk
about that; no, they talk about the `war for talent'. In other
words, what they talk about is "how we recruit the right
people for our organisations." Very often we are talking
then about the top universities, no longer just in the UK but
globally. They are internationally benchmarking universities now,
and so, for example, if you are an international company it is
likely that the UK would have probably only about four or five
universities it would regard as world-class for its purposes.
If you are in one of those universities then your chances of doing
pretty well are pretty good; so for the top 10 or 15% of graduates
in the UK I think their prospects are okay. What worries me a
great deal is the rest; because the more people you put into higher
education, whether you like it or not, going into higher education
comes with a set of expectations. If you like, it is a psychological
contract between the university and the Government, because the
Government has pushed this very much; learning is learning, you
go to university and you will improve your prospects. What I think
is that for large numbers of graduates it is not going to improve
their prospects very much, and so I think looking at the differentiation
in the graduate experience is very important.
Professor Brennan: I think there
is a lot of evidence to suggest that actually it is the prospects
of students who go to many new universities that are almost transformed
by going to higher education, because if you do not look at the
input factors you can misunderstand the output factors. Some of
our élite universities are very good at selecting an élite
and that élite then is rewarded in the labour market; but,
essentially, they were élite when they started and they
are going to be the élite when they finish. The movement
is actually taking place elsewhere in the sector and it may not
be as spectacular, and of course they are not going to get as
good jobs as being a member of the élite, but if you ask
the question "How has your life been changed by going to
university?" I am not sure that you will get the best stories
from the élite institutions.
Professor Robinson: Just two points.
One is, I think we need to look more at the equation of cost,
quality and value for money in relation to international students,
both coming to the UK and on UK courses. The second point I would
want to make is that I think there needs to be more exploration
of different models of delivering courses for international students,
using new technology, using different combinations of in-country,
out of country, whatever. I think getting away from the idea,
which many universities have, that there is only one kind of recruitment
and that is bringing students here. I think the future lies with
exploring the diversity of models and using them, not having just
a single model, with a single audience, which may vanish, for
some institutions, in the short term.
Q678 Chairman: Thank you very much
for that. I did think, Phillip, as you were expanding on that
last theory of yours, that if you were up in Huddersfield University,
in terms of getting people jobs and adding value to their careers,
that is just Huddersfield, of course, but, like a lot of the new
universities, we produce a lot of entrepreneurs. If you are blocked,
if you have got the talent and you are blocked from getting into
the élite professions, it may be that you want to do something
a lot more useful than getting into the City.
Professor Brown: I hope you are
Chairman: It has been a very good session;
can I thank you. Could you see this as a kind of `hello'? I thought
we started to get under the skin of the argument somewhere, as
the process is kind of a development one, but now you know who
we are and we know who you are can we remain in conversation and
communication. As you are going home, wherever it is, if there
are things you think you should have said to the Committee, please
get in touch; we are here to discuss these issues, this is a very
important inquiry for us and we want to get it right. Thank you.