Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Seventh Report



  2.    Article 126 of the EC Treaty, as amended by the Treaty on European Union, requires the Community to "contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action". Member States are responsible for the content of teaching and organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity.

  3.    Article 126 further provides that the Community's action shall be aimed at (inter alia):

    —   encouraging mobility of students and teachers, inter alia by encouraging the academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study;

    —   promoting cooperation between educational establishments.

  4.    The Treaty of Amsterdam amends the preamble to the EC Treaty to include a reference to the Member States' determination "to promote the development of the highest possible level of knowledge for their peoples through a wide access to education and through its continuous updating".


  5.    Although there was no specific provision on education in the EC Treaty the Community has, since the mid-1980s, developed projects for educational co-operation such as partnerships, pilot projects, and exchanges of information and experience. An early initiative was the Erasmus programme, set up by a Council Decision in 1987. Erasmus was designed to encourage student mobility between universities within Europe, and other forms of university co-operation. Similar programmes, aimed at the field of vocational training, schools and youth work were also set up in the late 1980s. Some of these were based on a provision of the Treaty (then Article 128) providing for a common vocational training policy. Others, including the Decision establishing Erasmus, were based on Articles 128 and 235[1].

  6.    Amendments introduced by the Treaty on European Union changed the legal basis for actions in the field of education. These now fall within Article 126 of the EC Treaty. As a result of these changes, the Community gained explicit competence for education. The Community's existing programmes for education, training and youth were rationalised into three: Socrates (on schools and higher education - thus incorporating Erasmus); Leonardo da Vinci (on vocational training); and Youth for Europe III. The new programmes were designed to run from 1995 until 1999. They are administered by Directorate-General XXII of the Commission.

  7.    In 1990, before this rationalisation, the Erasmus programme was extended by means of bilateral agreements with the EFTA countries. In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the Community, and in addition the programme was extended to Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Now, in 1998, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Cyprus are about to become full participants in the programmes. Discussions are also taking place to extend the programmes to Gibraltar. This great burgeoning of European co-operation has taken place against a background of increased educational co-operation between the European Union and certain third countries (in particular the USA, Canada, Japan, the non-EC Mediterranean countries, Lomé countries, Latin America and South Africa).

  8.    It is the Commission's responsibility to bring forward proposals for the next generation of programmes which will replace Leonardo da Vinci, Socrates and Youth for Europe in 2000. The subject of this Report is the Commission's Communication, Towards a Europe of Knowledge. In it, the Commission has set out its initial, broad guidelines for the new programmes. Detailed proposals were published towards the end of the Committee's enquiry, on 27th May. The detailed proposals are not considered in this Report. The new programmes are expected to be agreed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament by May or June 1999, to come into force on 1st January 2000 (see the European Commission Working Document, What the Programmes Have Achieved, (WTPHA), p 25).


  9.    In examining the Commission's Communication at this early stage, the Committee first of all decided to focus the enquiry on the renewal of the higher education part of the Socrates education programme (known as Socrates-Erasmus).

  10.    The Committee's enquiry was made up of two separate strands. One was to consider questions of principle rather than questions of detail. This strand looked at Socrates-Erasmus in terms of the aims and achievements of the programme, and the hopes of key British interest groups for the new programme. The second strand consisted of an examination of more detailed questions, primarily related to the United Kingdom. This strand dealt with, among other things, the imbalance of the flow of students into and out of the United Kingdom.

  11.    The Committee's interest having been roused by the question of the imbalance of flow, four general questions immediately presented themselves as the starting point for the Committee's enquiry:

      (i)  what is the purpose of the Community higher education programme?

      (ii)  what has the Community programme achieved so far?

      (iii)  what should it aim to achieve in the future?

      (iv)  how should the new programme differ from the old one?

  12.    As the enquiry progressed, it became clear that there were three other questions which lay at the heart of the matter:

      (i)  Is there general agreement that the objectives of the new programme should be concentrated on access, innovation and dissemination of good practice?

      (ii)  what action should be taken, if any, with regard to the imbalance of students under the Community education programme, whereby British universities host more students than they send out?

      (iii)  should the Government seek financial compensation from the Community given the high level of demand from other European students to do part of their studies in countries teaching in English?

  13.    The particular topic which the Committee set out to investigate was student mobility under Socrates-Erasmus. It is important to distinguish this organised mobility from what is termed the "free mover" student mobility outside Socrates-Erasmus, in which students may enrol abroad for a whole course or part of a course. The financial and institutional implications are very different; but statistically it is not always easy to distinguish Erasmus students from other EU students. Some of the evidence we received related to the totality of student mobility within Europe, and we make use of this in the Report. We have tried to be clear in all cases whether information relates to Erasmus mobility or to all European mobility: nevertheless, it is important to draw attention at the start to the need to distinguish between these two forms of mobility.

  14.    Part 2 of this Report gives a short summary of the Commission's communication, Towards a Europe of Knowledge. Part 3 summarises the evidence which the Committee received, and is structured thus:

      (i)  first, to set out the characteristics of the Community higher education programme as it is at present;

      (ii)  secondly, to consider the question of the imbalance of the flow of students in and out of the United Kingdom; and

      (iii)  thirdly, to consider the hopes of key United Kingdom players in relation to the new programme.

Part 4 of the Report reiterates the Committee's Conclusions and Recommendations, which are also to be found in bold type as they occur throughout Part 3.

  15.    This Report is based on an enquiry undertaken by Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs). A list of the Members of the Sub-Committee is given in Appendix 1. A list of those from whom the Committee took evidence is given in Appendix 2. The Commission's Communication, Towards a Europe of Knowledge, is printed in Appendix 3.

1   In case 242/87, Commission v. Council: [1989] ECR 1425, the Commission challenged the necessity for using Article 235 in addition to Article 128. The Court of Justice accepted that most of the actions envisaged under the Erasmus scheme, with the exception of scientific research, fell within the scope of Article 128 alone. As a result of this Case, the Council Decision setting up Erasmus was amended in 1989 in such a way as to ensure that it fell within Article 128 only. Back

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