Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Seventh Report


  25.    For the Commission, Community action on higher education has its place within the framework of "knowledge policies". "Knowledge policies" are one of the four policy pillars of the Union's internal policies, set out in Agenda 2000, and designed to support Community action on innovation, research, education and training. The Socrates-Erasmus programme is the main Community programme in higher education cooperation.



  26.    The Erasmus Programme was the subject of a detailed evaluation study, commissioned by DGXXII, and conducted over a seven year period. From 1987-1988 to 1993-1994, the patterns of movement, the motivations and achievements of Erasmus students, and the policy issues arising out of the programme for institutions were monitored. The major findings of the study have recently been published in a Report entitled The Erasmus Experience[2]. The Committee took evidence on the distinctive features of the programme from the Report's co-author, Professor U Teichler, of the Centre for Research in Higher Education and Work of the University of Kassel. Professor Teichler's co-author was Dr F Maiworm, and their study is hereafter referred to as the Teichler-Maiworm study, or Teichler-Maiworm.

  27.    The Teichler-Maiworm study identified eight features which, taken together, distinguished the Erasmus programme from other programmes. These were (Teichler-Maiworm, para 9.2):

      (i)  that Erasmus has supported regional mobility, rather than global mobility, concentrating on co-operation between countries which share elements of their culture;

      (ii)  that Erasmus has been aimed at promoting integrated study abroad, with periods of study abroad recognised as forming part of a course;

      (iii)  that Erasmus has supported collective rather than individual mobility. (Until the mid 1990s, Erasmus promoted mobility and cooperation within networks of academic departments, these networks being known as Inter-Ueration Programmes, or ICPs);

      (iv)  that Erasmus study abroad was "organised". Participating institutions were encouraged by the programme to prepare their students going abroad by giving them language help and in other ways. They were also encouraged to help incoming students, not only with academic advice but also with key "daily life" issues like accommodation;

      (v)  that under Erasmus, curricular integration was encouraged, this ranging from joint or co-ordinated academic activities between partner departments, to the incorporation of a temporary study period into the home country curriculum, with a potential for joint curricula, mandatory periods abroad, regular recognition procedures;

      (vi)  that under Erasmus, there should be recognition on return for the student's achievements;

      (vii)  that Erasmus funding was recognised to be simply an incentive. Students were given only the additional costs of study abroad (and not provided with a full grant for the period away). Participating institutions were given only a "moderate" grant for the support services required by their networks.

  28.    The aims and objectives of the programme (Teichler-Maiworm, para 2.2.3) were to increase significantly the number of mobile students as a way of producing a pool of graduates experienced in intra-Community cooperation, and as means of consolidating the citizen dimension of a People's Europe. At the same time, Erasmus was expected to strengthen co-operation between institutions of higher education, and thereby to improve the quality of higher education across Europe as a whole.

  29.    In oral evidence, Professor Teichler (Q 203) stressed the academic nature of the programme. The programme began in faculties and departments rather than in the university institutions. Following early Community failures to harmonise curricula in particular subjects, the Community recognised that the huge differences in national approaches to the same discipline should be the starting point. Professor Teichler took the view that "mobility is only worthwhile if it is academically recognised within the discipline". While student mobility has come to be seen by many as an end in itself, it was the view of Professor Teichler that student mobility should also be seen as an instrument for "de-nationalising" curricula, or (Q 215) for dealing with "national modes which turned out to be stronger than the discipline". Universities had welcomed this: co-operation had become "the normal thing" even for the most prestigious universities (Q 220). The success of Erasmus (Q 222) lay in the way it had "stimulated, or pushed" universities into "cooperation on equal terms"; something which went far beyond "just having some foreign students".

  30.    It was expected by the Community that student mobility would be on the basis of exchanges. But reciprocity is no longer mandatory. Dr Drake of Loughborough University gave the Committee the example of her university which sees it as part of its European mission to host more students than it sends out (Q 143). The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) in its comments on Towards a Europe of Knowledge argued that reciprocity should be seen within the framework of all co-operative activities undertaken within the Erasmus framework, not simply student mobility (p 48).


 (i) Benefits to the Community

  31.    The Commission claims that its education and training programmes, including Erasmus, have already "given meaning to the notion of a `European dimension'" (WTPHA p 7, 20ff). This effect can be measured in terms of the programme reaching a greater range of students, and stimulating course innovation and the demand for more effective recognition of attainment on a Europe wide basis. The Commission maintains that there is, as a result of the programme, a greater sense of European citizenship and shared values.

  32.    The added value brought by Erasmus also has an economic aspect. The Commission itself begins its Communication by drawing attention to the link between education and wealth creation. This link was also recognised in a report produced by ARIES[3], the French agency for international cooperation in higher education. ARIES received evidence which argued that higher education institutions (HEIs) should "be seen by their home city or region as an economic, social and cultural partner, with in many cases a successful record of attracting inward investment and of helping to recruit and retain an educated and adaptable workforce" (p 88). ARIES concluded that the Commission should recognise "that HEIs are major players in the economic, social and cultural life of Europe as well as in the immediate sphere of education and training. They provide jobs in the millions and generate, directly or indirectly, many billions of ECU of economic activity" (p 90).

 (ii) Benefits for the Country

  33.    All the Committee's witnesses agreed that the Erasmus programme had added value to the UK education system. The programme had been good for the country, good for individuals and good for institutions. Baroness Blackstone, the Minister for Education and Employment, said that Erasmus and similar programmes "provide significant benefits for the UK for education and training and for youth organisations. They broaden horizons for young people. They help spread good practice and generally foster goodwill and understanding. That is exactly what European programmes of this sort ought to do" (Q 235).

  34.    Also stressing the national interest, Dr Rob Hull, Secretary to the Higher Education Funding Council (England) (HEFCE) said, "If we are attracting students, attracting researchers and attracting academic staff from abroad that will enhance teaching and research here. International exchange is a very good thing in its own right in higher education" (Q 87). Indeed HEFCE sets aside £10m - more than the EU-wide Erasmus budget - to fund overseas students prepared to do postgraduate work in the UK. Mr J Reilly, director of the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council, agreed on the benefits for "UK plc" (Q 16). "On the whole Erasmus students have a first class experience, they enjoy it, they actually like us and that is something they carry with them for the rest of their lives". Such benefits, as the Institute of Physics pointed out (p 107), extend way beyond those awarded an exchange grant. They extend to all those with whom such students interact both during their travels and in later life.

  35.    Some witnesses drew attention to the fact that other countries spent large sums of money to attract foreign students to their universities, believing that their influence would benefit their hosts in later years when these students came to occupy leading positions. Similarly, other witnesses felt that those engaged in trade with European countries ought to have first-hand knowledge of the society, language and culture of their trading partners. Professor Sibson (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent) speaking for the CVCP, underlined the need within British industry for graduates who had a command not only of European languages, but also of European ways of thinking and living (Q 136). Mr Reilly (Q 5) noted that if the United Kingdom wished to be at the heart of Europe it needed to produce graduates who were able to co-operate with their European peers. The Teichler-Maiworm study revealed that many students felt their Erasmus experience had helped them find their first job (para 7.5.3 and table 71). Professor King (Vice-Chancellor of Lincolnshire and Humberside University) also speaking for the CVCP, said that he was surprised by how many students who had been on the Erasmus or Socrates-Erasmus programme had found themselves on the Continent, in good careers (Q 111).

 (iii) Benefits for Universities

  36.    The added value for institutions hosting Erasmus students from other EU universities was recognised by all the witnesses. Mr Clark, the Director of Higher Education at the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), thought that the benefits lay in the ability of universities to devise joint programmes, and in the fact that Erasmus provided a means towards a recognition of qualifications across Europe (Q 31). Dr Drake (Q 137) turned the issue round to emphasise the commitment of academics to the exchanges, or to a period abroad - not just in languages, or in European studies, but in whatever degree course the student might be studying. Though academics complained about the paperwork (Q 151), the students themselves were, according to Mr Reilly, seen as being of a very high standard and ahead of their peer group (Q 28). Their educational expectations (or those of their parents) were high. Miss Jones, Socrates Officer at the University of Bradford, pointed out that continental students expected to travel (Q 188). Professor Teichler suggested that they considered such travel as part of their social learning (Q 231). Professor King noted that in Lincolnshire and Humberside, the maturity of Erasmus students rubbed of on the university in a very positive way, and the vibrancy and cosmopolitan ambience which they brought was detectable (Q 135).

  37.    The CVCP referred to an "institutional enthusiasm" and a high demand among universities for the activities promoted by the programme (p 47). ARIES amplified this (p 88). It found universities EU-wide believing participation in Community programmes stimulated a drive for academic quality and raised the international profile of their discipline; in addition, participation could be a smart career move. Community funding was often seen as a carrot, but it usually turned out to be a small one. There was no point in being "in it for the money".

  38.    The Institute of Physics provided a concrete example of how Europeanisation was now affecting British universities, and pushing them to attain higher standards (p 106). A four-year first degree, known as MPhys or MSci, has been developed to combat what university physics teachers felt were the disadvantages of the English three-year degree course, namely the lack of liberal education, a more superficial depth of study and a relative lack of mathematical rigour. The four-year degree is now taken by a third of undergraduates. Baroness Blackstone gave an example of Europeanisation from the other direction (Q 248), saying that the French minister of education, M Claude Allègre, was trying to interest a group of EU Member States in setting up an English-style three-year degree[4].

  39.    The Teichler-Maiworm study reported that there were significant institutional spin-offs from the programme (Teichler-Maiworm, para 7.6). Research collaboration was the most important in fields related to the disciplines of the Erasmus students (Teichler-Maiworm, Table 78). ARIES, however, suggested that exploiting research links at Brussels level was not as easy as it could be (p 89).

 (iv) Benefits for Students

  40.    For students themselves, Professor Teichler suggested the greatest gain was that "A comparing and a reflective mind become a way of life" (Q 206), a judgement with which many witnesses concurred in terms of the broadening of horizons produced by study abroad. The Teichler-Maiworm survey notes that this did not always satisfy university teachers at home, widely alleged by students to appreciate fact-finding more than a different way of thinking (Teichler-Maiworm, para 7.2.3). Employers may be more appreciative than teachers. The Committee was given some evidence by the DfEE (p 38), leaning on Table 71 of the Teichler-Maiworm study, that an Erasmus exchange has been a bonus on a curriculum vitae, especially in getting a first job. British Erasmus students were among the best in terms of having employment five years after their Erasmus experience.

  41.    The students' academic gains were important, especially for those who stayed an academic year as opposed to a semester or three months (Teichler-Maiworm, para 10.4). Two-thirds of the students in the Teichler-Maiworm survey had had the opportunity of doing courses not available in the home institution and more than half believed their academic progress abroad was greater than during an equivalent period at home. But the gain they rated highest were their acquaintance with the local population, their knowledge of the host country and their progress in a foreign language. Some witnesses to the Committee suggested however that even students on a compulsory year abroad were not necessarily interested in studying at another university. Dr Drake told the Committee that she had recently organised placements for 20 outgoing students, only five of whom had registered at a foreign university (Q 149). She added that most British students going abroad wanted paid jobs instead of university places, and that they were put off by hearing from returning students that it was hard work to study in a foreign university. "Assessment-driven" British students were increasingly unwilling to register for "hard" university courses elsewhere on the grounds that a low mark would prejudice their degree class mark.


  42.    Commission statistics (WTPHA, pp 34-35) show that over 476,000 students, and almost 99,000 teachers and policy-makers, have benefitted from an Erasmus exchange since 1990. In 1995-1996 a total of 88,500 awards were made. Professor Teichler told the Committee (Q 220) that all higher education institutions, bar the very small or highly vocational institutions, are now involved - a total of 2,000 or so. The research team at the Paris-based European Institute of Education and Social Policy estimates that almost 3 per cent of students EU-wide participate in organised programmes during a year[5]. This is well below the 10 per cent once hoped for.[6] However, the funds available for student mobility grants have proved only just sufficient for the actual number of students going abroad, and that, said the Teichler-Maiworm study, was evidence that the scale of the programme is driven more by the size of its budget than by student demand (Teichler-Maiworm, para 9.3.1). The keynote speech to the UKCOSA 1997 conference, given by Hilary Callan of the European Association for International Education, and reprinted with the evidence at the end of this Report, provided support for this idea. Ms Callan said that the demand for funding was now ten times the funding available, and that awards made were mostly a mere 7-8 per cent of the sum asked for (p 95).


  43.    The Community at present commits to the education, training and youth element of its "Knowledge policies", 0.44 per cent of the Community budget (WTPHA, p 10). The actual budget for education, training and youth rose from 60M ECU in 1987 to 404M ECU in 1998 (WTPHA, p 29). By comparison, the 1998 share of the Community budget going to the European Social Fund was 10.47 per cent; the share going to research was 3.81 per cent; and the share going to agriculture was 56 per cent (Mr Reilly, Q 5, the Confederation of European Rectors' Conferences (CEURC), p 98).

  44.    The programme budget has been set, since the Treaty of Maastricht, by the Council of Ministers in co-decision with the European Parliament. Mr Reilly (Q 5) explained to the Committee that most of the funds allocated under Socrates took the form of a top up mobility grant for students. A limited amount of funding was available for teacher mobility, the European Credit Transfer Scheme (see paras 139ff below), curriculum development, intensive programmes, preparatory visits, and for thematic networks which bring teachers in the same discipline together to work on trans-national projects.

  45.    Professor Teichler told the Committee (Q 210) that since 1990, the amount of funding per student had been decreasing, while costs had been rising. He believed (Q 213) that there had been a tacit agreement on strategy on the part of Community institutions. The Council of Ministers had insisted on holding down the budget; but the Commission had nevertheless expanded the scope of programme activities. That had been part of a high risk strategy by the Commission to show that there was a greater demand for the programme than the Council of Ministers was willing to finance. The universities wanted 100 per cent of their extra costs covered; but Ministers wanted a ceiling on Community funding. The Commission wove between the two.

  46.    Many witnesses complained that the Commission now spread its money too thinly. The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council (p 16) and the CVCP (p 41) said that the Commission had a choice of running a small programme on a small budget or a large programme on a large budget, but it cannot do what it currently tries to do, which is to run a large programme on a small budget.

  47.    The CVCP urged the Commission and Member State Governments to be realistic (p 41). The programmes needed to be better funded to meet the aspirations of the Commission, the universities and students. The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council simply stated that "The Commission should ensure that there are no new activities within Socrates II without a corresponding increase in budget to cater for them" (p 16). The CVCP suggested that there should be greater selectivity on the basis of high quality (p 49). The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council asked for 100 per cent funding of universities' programme costs (p 13).

  48.    CEURC stated (p 98) that "The resources needed are not just a question of expenditure but also of investment in the future of Europe". They called upon the EU to invest substantially in the education framework, pointing out that at present "EU contributions to the whole area of innovation, research, education and training amount to the equivalent of a couple of days of the agricultural budget".

  49.    The CVCP made a similar point, stating that the EU education programmes must be considered within "the context of international competitiveness" (p 46). They drew attention to the globalising economy, and to the role of universities in enhancing skills and knowledge and delivering "highly qualified human resource to the rapidly changing labour market" (p 47). They concluded that "The crucial importance of education and training for Europe's future should be signalled in the level of resource committed to the Programmes".

  50.    The Committee notes that the present programme, in an area where national differences are profound, has successfully extended forms of university cooperation which are of benefit to the country as well as to universities and their staff and students.

  51.    We are convinced by the arguments for the Community programmes as an investment. We consider that they work to the benefit of the populations of the participating countries. We also note that demand for these programmes far outstrips the resources.

  52.    We believe that to propose ambitious programmes without commensurate funding would be to build castles in the air, and would produce disillusionment.

  53.    We therefore call on the Government to support proposals to provide sufficient funds to sustain a worthwhile and expanding programme.


  54.    The Directorate­General at the Commission with overall administrative responsibility for the programme, DGXXII, is supported by a technical assistance office in Brussels and by the national grant awarding agencies (Mr Reilly, Q 5). The Teichler-Maiworm survey explains (para 2.2.4) that for Socrates-Erasmus, while the Commission's involvement is considerable, there is also a close interlocking with national representatives. The Commission is required to consult an advisory committee called the Higher Education Committee. The Commission provides the chair and the secretariat, but must appoint two representatives per Member State, at least one of whom is drawn from the academic community, on the proposition of the Member State concerned. The Commission is further assisted by three other groups or bodies: the technical assistance office (formerly known as the Erasmus bureau) which has administered all aspects of the programme other than the student mobility grants; by academic advisory groups which it selects; and by the national agencies. These last act as administrators and distributors of the mobility grants under contract to the Commission. Increasingly they are a source of information and advice for universities (Mr Reilly, Q 5, Q 11). The agency in the UK is called the Socrates­Erasmus Council. It has an executive council representing academics, the Government, and relevant higher education organisations. In the opinion of its chairman, Lord Smith of Clifton, (p 63) this executive council should be the main national policy forum. Lord Smith is also the Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University, and the Vice-Chancellor Delegate to the EU Socrates-Erasmus Advisory Committee.


  55.    Universities which wish to participate in the programme enter into a contract freely and directly with the Commission, and freely choose their partners (Mr Reilly Q 8, Q 28). Among the rules to which they agree, one with relevance for the British situation concerns tuition fees. Professor Teichler (Q 228) explained that there is a general regulation that if a student's home country charges fees, the student may have to go on paying them while studying abroad; but the host institution is not allowed to charge fees, even if it charges fees to its own home students. Students pay their own maintenance costs (Q 19), though countries have their own rules on grants.


  56.    The UK is a significant player in the Erasmus programme (Mr Reilly, Q 14). Big universities such as Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Sheffield were among the most active participants, although Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics, all prestigious names, were among those which participated very little. Professor Teichler (Q 220-Q 222) confirmed that, originally, middle ground institutions were in general the pioneers, with prestigious institutions initially hanging back since they already had their international contacts. But this had now changed. The most prestigious institutions in other EU countries now considered it very important to be part of the Socrates-Erasmus programme.

  57.    UK Socrates-Erasmus Council statistics (pp 9-12) show that British universities as a whole hosted 26.4 per cent of all Erasmus students, the biggest proportion anywhere. In 1995-1996, the latest year for which statistics on results (as opposed to applications) were available, there were a total of 82,532 Erasmus awards EU-wide. The UK received 21,808 incoming Erasmus students, but it sent out only 11,735. Its outgoing students represented 14.2 per cent of the total that year. The only Member State with a greater proportional imbalance was Ireland, which hosted 3,312 students and sent out only 1,618. France was the only other Member State to host more Erasmus students than it sent out (15,177 in; 13,336 out).

  58.    Erasmus coverage is wide. Students from all participating countries study at all other participating countries; and all disciplines are covered by the programme. In 1995-96, UK students went to all the participating countries (bar Luxembourg which does not have a university). Though business studies, languages, law and social sciences dominated, British Erasmus students were drawn from all disciplines (pp 9-12).

  59.    Many of the Committee's witnesses were concerned to distinguish the Erasmus incoming EU students from those who register separately for a degree ("the free movers" in the terminology of Gordon and Jallade - see footnote 5). The UK imports "free movers" on a very significant scale indeed. The Committee took evidence from Mr Tony Clark, Director of higher education in the DfEE (QQ 37-40) that, excluding Erasmus students, there are over 45,000 full-time undergraduate students from the EU at UK universities (Table II, p 22). On the other hand, there were only around 10,000 UK students studying abroad (Table V, p 27), giving an imbalance of 35,000 students. Mr Clark thought (Q 66) that the UK was thus providing for EU students the equivalent of "three or four substantial universities" (see also para 79 below). The mode of calculation was strongly contested by Professor Teichler (Q 228), on the ground that the cost of incoming foreign students should be considered as marginal costs, similar to those which are incurred when the student:teacher ratio is increased. The idea that the number of incoming students might be bad for Britain was contested by many witnesses, but the issue fell outside the Committee's terms of reference and we do no more than signpost it here.

  60.    In terms of the Socrates-Erasmus programme, one concern for Mr Reilly was that there were very few participating students in natural sciences and engineering; but a more general problem was the fact that the number of British Erasmus students was relatively low, meaning that there was an "imbalance of flow" with every partner country. Moreover, unlike the other "big players", France and Germany, the number of British students who participated in the programme was now in decline. Applications fell by 10 per cent in 1996-1997 (Mr Reilly, Q 5).

  61.    Dr Drake, Mr Jennings (the International Development Officer at the University of Bradford), Miss Jones and Professor Sibson all gave examples of this "imbalance" within their own institutions (QQ 141-147, 182 and 135). The Institute of Physics reported 19 Erasmus programmes in its discipline, but while 32 students came to the UK, only one was studying abroad (p 106). In contrast, Germany was sending out 28 physics students. Professor King told the Committee that the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside, which has a large European programme, had purposely reduced its commitment (Q 135). Applications from abroad to study at Loughborough University have been falling too, with Dr Drake suggesting this was far from unusual (Q 145).

  62.    The Committee was also told by Mr Clark (Q 62) that drop out rates from Erasmus were significant, and moreover were worse in the UK than most countries. UK Socrates-Erasmus Council figures show that more than half of the students given awards do not take up their awards (7-Year Report, p 12; and Data Report 1996, p 13).

  63.    Given this imbalance, the Committee decided that before coming to conclusions on the principles contained in the Commission's Communication, it needed to take evidence on the British balance question: what explains the imbalance of "flows" of students within the Erasmus programme between the UK and its partners? And what can, or should, be done about it?

2   Published by the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities: ISBN 92-828-0666-9. Back

3   Published in English translation in the Winter 1997 issue of the Journal of International Education. An abridged version is printed with the written evidence at the end of this Report. Back

4   On 25th May 1998, at celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Sorbonne, Ministers for Higher Education in France, Britain, Germany and Italy signed a declaration calling for a common structure for lengths of degrees at undergraduate, masters and doctorate level (Times Higher Educational Supplement, 29th May 1998). Back

5   J Gordon, JP Jallade and N Lebeau (1996) Mobility within the European Union: a statistical analysis, a report for the European Commission, DG XXII, May 1996. Back

6   The Commission's aim, in line with the European Parliament's wish, was that by 1992 around 10 per cent of all students in the Community would be following a university course organised by universities in more than one Member State (source: Council Decision of 14th December 1989 amending Decision 87/327/EEC adapting the EC action scheme for the mobility of university students (Erasmus OJ L 395 of 30.12.1989). Back

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