Select Committee on European Communities Twenty-Seventh Report



  110.    The Commission's Communication states that the new programmes must be effective for the citizen as well as for the Community. The Commission sets the objectives and content for the new generation of education, training and youth programmes in the new and enlarged Europe within a new management strategy and a call for more resources. It is proposed that more partners should be involved in supporting and funding the programmes and that day to day management should be decentralised. The Commission would like a common framework of co-ordination and monitoring the programmes, simplified management processes including multi-annual funding, and more freedom for piloting innovation.


 (i) A Prosperous Europe

  111.    The Minister, Baroness Blackstone, reported that EU Ministers recognised that education and training were central to the EU agenda of achieving a more prosperous and more cohesive Europe (Q 235). The CVCP also highlighted the economic potential of the programmes within the frame of European development and the context of international competitiveness. They wanted the programmes to exploit the potential of new technologies, stimulate participation in lifelong learning for all European citizens, and build on the key role of universities in delivering "highly qualified resource (sic) to the rapidly changing labour market" (p 47). ARIES also acknowledged that future wealth creation would be dependent on the European universities' efforts in the fields of research, education and training (p 89).

 (ii) Enlargement and Citizenship

  112.    The CEURC welcomed Community enlargement, and targeted international co-operation. They argued that in the new generation of programmes, incorporating the 22 Member States of the enlarged Europe, solidarity policies must be seen as integral (p 97). Lord Smith of Clifton said that it was important not to forget that if the EU "project" was to progress, the important and wider issue of citizenship must be on the agenda (p 64).

 (iii) Academic Concerns

  113.    Hilary Callan (p 95) maintained that it was important to keep a critical dimension in mind: while it had certainly been part of the explicit political intention that a European dimension would have a transformative effect on educational systems and European consciousness of graduates "...we are still entitled to ask what in educational terms will be the added value in each environment". This critical approach accorded well with the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council's emphasis on the enhancement of quality as the prime consideration for the new programmes (pp 13-14).


  114.    The specific objectives proposed by the Commission were the widening of access to the programmes; the promotion of innovation; and the wide dissemination of good practice and of other relevant information. Professor Sibson and Mr Clark suggested the Commission's objectives played to Britain's strengths (Q 118; QQ 31-32).

 (i) Access

  115.    Professor Teichler (Q 217) told the Committee that Erasmus had been designed for "young, unmarried, middle of the road students". The Commission's wish to widen access to Europe's educational resources was shared by witnesses.

  116.    For HEURO (p 110), questions of access and equality were paramount. It was essential that the new programmes should not become a means of training an elite. The Minister echoed this (Q 235), welcoming the emphasis on new and extended access and saying, "The programmes ought to be more accessible, particularly to the less advantaged. We suspect these programmes benefit more privileged young people". She mentioned apprentices (Q 243) and life-long learners (Q 252) as among the targets for the programmes in general.

  117.    Mr Reilly (Q 10) took up the theme of life-long learning, stressing the benefits of the programme for mature students, life long learners, and their families. Mr Jennings of Bradford University made the point (Q 180) that the growing number of mature and locally based students in Britain's universities were candidates for wider access. Ms Jones, also from Bradford, said (Q 181) that more opportunity would be offered only if more flexible structures, such as short courses, became available.

  118.    This point was reiterated by other witnesses, who suggested that a year abroad might very difficult for mature students with commitments at home, and for part-time students. HEURO (p 110), the University of Bradford (Q 181) and UACES (Q 161) supported the idea of short courses and summer schools to meet the needs of such people. The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council drew attention to the benefits of the existing intensive programmes, but agreed that there should be the possibility of five day programmes for the benefit of part-time students (p 14). They also suggested that such programmes should be publicised on the Internet to widen participation.

  119.    Mr Reilly (Q 26) and Professor Teichler (Q 203), however, both stressed the academic nature of exchanges, and recommended that greater flexibility of provision should not be at the expense of the provision of resources for a study abroad for an academic year, which was proven to be of greater academic value.

  120.    A different suggestion for broadening access to physical mobility was made by Dr Drake (QQ 142, 149-150), who made the point that students were attracted to placements abroad where there was an opportunity to earn some money. She suggested that Erasmus students might take up what she termed a "residency" abroad, and that that residency should include work placements and language assistantships as well as university study.

  121.    In relation to disabled students, Mr Reilly confirmed that the Commission did make provision for disabled students, and that this special provision was publicised within universities (QQ 10-11). Professor Sibson (p 56) and the University of Manchester (p 115) confirmed this, citing examples of severely disabled students who had taken part in the programme. Professor Teichler confirmed that EU universities in general had made substantial investments to ensure that various forms of disability no longer barred students from participation (Q 218).

  122.    Access for members of ethnic minorities was, however, still difficult. Baroness Blackstone (Q 251) drew attention to Britain's success in integrating ethnic minority students, but said she was in favour of monitoring access to ensure that equal opportunities were available. She suggested that equal opportunities procedures should cover gender, socio-economic background, race and ethnic group. Professor Teichler (Q 232) pointed out that no ethnic monitoring of the programmes had so far taken place, and expressed support for the idea.

  123.    The Committee welcomes the Commission's commitment to widening access, but suggests that the aspiration will be effective only if there is greater flexibility in the programme. The Committee also believes that the effectiveness of access needs to be evaluated.

  124.    The Committee recommends that the Commission should plan for more short courses and summer schools but that these should not be at the expense of the traditional academic Erasmus study scheme.

  125.    The Committee welcomes the Commission's special provision for disabled students, but notes the very small numbers of disabled students who are able to take up places as a result of this provision. The Committee recommends that the new programmes should make specific provision for disabled students, framed in such a way as to make it possible for more disabled students to take up places on the Erasmus programme.

  126.    The Committee recommends that the Commission's new monitoring procedures should cover access issues. We agree with the Minister that such monitoring should provide information on gender, socio-economic background, race, and ethnic group. Access for people with disabilities should also be monitored.

 (ii) Pilot Projects

  127.    The Commission proposes that a significant proportion of resources should be devoted to Commission-generated pilot projects to test new approaches. HEURO supported this idea (p 110), and the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council suggested that pilot projects also be used for curriculum development at Community level (p 14). On the other hand, the CEURC suggested that Commission-led innovation had its dangers (p 99). They saw the top-down nature as contrary to the Erasmus style. Other witnesses did not comment.

 (iii) The Dissemination of Information

  128.    The Commission proposes better dissemination of good practice. It also proposes to undertake studies of practice within Member States, in order to have better information to disseminate.

  129.    The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council (p 13) and ARIES (p 89) welcomed the broad thrust of this proposal, as did the CEURC (p 100) who made the point that it was important not to duplicate national efforts.


  130.    The Commission has restructured the activities which existed under the Erasmus and Socrates-Erasmus programmes under six headings

      (i)  the extension of physical mobility for teachers as well as students, incorporating questions of recognition of qualifications and work done;

      (ii)  the extension of virtual mobility;

      (iii)  the building up of academic cooperation networks;

      (iv)  the promotion of language skills and the understanding of different cultures;

      (v)  the pursuit of innovation through Community pilot projects; and

      (vi)  the building up of Community sources of reference.

The evidence which we took on these subjects is set out, together with the Committee's conclusions, in paragraphs 133 to 167 below.

  131.    The Confederation of EU Rectors' Conferences challenged the structure developed by Commission. They argued (p 99) that pilot projects and reference activities were naturally in the hands of the Commission, but that all the rest of the trans-national activities should be derived from the academic networks which were the fundamental instruments for fulfilling the Commission objectives. Cooperation networks should not be separated from strategic planning on physical and virtual mobility. Language developments grew naturally alongside these projects. The Institute of Physics, speaking for specialists, underlined the importance of the transnational disciplinary contact (p 106). (On the other hand, HEURO considered thematic networks not to have worked (p 110).)

  132.    Professor Teichler largely endorsed this view (Q 208), suggesting that the real objective of the Commission was to get institutions to focus more closely on their own European strategy, and to strengthen the impact of activities other than student mobility by making other aspects of university exchange and cooperation more effective.

 (i) Physical Mobility

  133.    The Commission places physical mobility first on its list of proposed activities. Witnesses (including Professor Teichler, UKSOC, the CVCP, HEFCE, HEURO, UACES and the Institute of Physics) agreed that student mobility was central, lying at the heart of the programme.

 (ii) Teacher Mobility

  134.    The Commission proposes that physical mobility should cover target groups including teachers at the different levels of the education and training systems.

  135.    The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council suggested that student and teacher mobility were complementary, since it was vital for the success and quality of student mobility that academic staff should remain highly motivated and committed to the programme (p 14). According to the CEURC, it was the network links, forged at academic level, that kept the project going (p 99); and, according to Professor Sibson (Q 126) and Mr Reilly (Q 7) exchanges were an obvious way to foster these vital links which lay at the heart of the programme.

  136.    On the negative side, Miss Jones of Bradford University stressed how difficult the staff mobility scheme had been to operate in the past, since it was rare for a teacher to be able to find five clear working days (Q 171).

  137.    The Committee notes the agreement that the principle of mobility is crucial to the success of new programmes. But we also consider that however welcome the principle, the practicalities need to be addressed. Successful outcomes depend on adequate funding and on more flexible structures.

  138.    The Committee recommends that the physical mobility of students and academic staff be a priority in the new programme. The Committee recommends that the Commission maintain its existing programmes, but that the flexible approach recommended above in relation to short courses and summer schools be extended to meet the needs of teachers as well as other mobile groups, such as mature students and postgraduates.

 (iii) European Credit Transfer System

  139.    One of the great challenges of Erasmus and Socrates-Erasmus has been to find ways to ensure that the work done by Erasmus students during the period of their study abroad is recognised and credited in the home university. A system called the European Credit Transfer system exists, and is used at present where possible. The Commission now suggests the extension of the arrangements for mutual recognition to the whole of the European area in the most systematic manner possible.

  140.    Several witnesses suggested that this was more problematic than might appear. Professor Teichler (Q 234) and Dr Drake (Q 138) both underlined the practical difficulty of incorporating recognition for the studies undertaken by Erasmus students while still guaranteeing quality. The fundamental question for the future of Socrates-Erasmus was whether the programme was basically concerned to stimulate integrated academic studies or whether it was "academic tourism."

  141.    We have already referred to the problems of mismatch between students who regard their Erasmus period as an add-on, and those for whom its recognition is critical to the class awarded to their degree. We noted that this was a particular disincentive in the English system with its tightly structured and short degree course. Dr Drake (Q 152) referred to the problems which arose if the host institution did not keep to the rules, or let standards slip.

  142.    The Committee heard that there were two ways in which Erasmus students might be guaranteed the quality of their academic provision and offered recognition. Mr Reilly (Q 26) and the CVCP (p 48) believed that the European Credit Transfer system was the key. This scheme requires participating departments:

      (i)  to organise courses so that they comprised 60 course credit units per year;

      (ii)  to provide advance information on courses to enable visiting students to prepare; and

      (iii)  to furnish returning students with documentation relating to courses taken and credits awarded.[11]<ql>

Mr Reilly put it to the Committee (Q 26) that the student must expect to have to stand and deliver, to do examinations or assessments and bring these back to the home institution - and the home institution must recognise them and count them in the degree award. In that context the ECTS does appear to be the key, because it imposes curricular transparency, academic recognition and documented assessment of study.

  143.    The only witness who spoke against the ECTS was Dr Drake for UACES (Q 138), who saw the European Credit Transfer system as a Commission move to impose harmonisation. She wanted to see more flexibility in forms of assessment; for example, a student might be required to do a project supervised in the host institution but assessed in the home institution. She felt that the European Credit Transfer System did not fit in with the practicalities of enticing a student to go abroad. The system which had been used in the early days of Erasmus, when recognition was ensured by integrated studies or shared courses being devised by the network of participating universities, was favoured by the CEURC as a way of ensuring that recognition was based on academic rather than on administrative values (p 99).

  144.    The other way to guarantee quality was to introduce diplomas. This was suggested to the Committee by Lord Smith of Clifton (Q 174), who said that his university had long ago introduced diplomas to go with a degree as an extra award for study abroad. Northern Ireland had a credit transfer scheme which had been built into the European scheme, and the result was that Northern Irish universities had successfully got science and engineering students taking up Erasmus places.

  145.    The Committee notes the pressures for the programme to diversify. The result of diversification would be that the period spent abroad would not necessarily be integrated with the course at the student's home university. We feel that this would be weakening one of the best aspects of the programme and we reassert the importance of co-operation between universities to give recognition the period of study abroad, whether or not such recognition takes place within the framework of the European Credit Transfer system.

 (iv) Virtual Mobility

  146.    The Commission's proposal to place a strong emphasis on virtual mobility was endorsed by the Minister. She told the Committee that EU Ministers with responsibility for Education and Social Affairs were in favour of using IT to provide virtual mobility as a way of extending the benefits of Community programmes (Q 235). The CVCP supported this approach (p 47). The Committee received no evidence suggesting how virtual mobility might be increased in higher education. CEURC suggested that virtual mobility should be pursued within co-operation networks, across sectors, levels and countries (p 100).

 (v) Language Skills and the Understanding of Different Cultures

  147.    The promotion of languages and cultural skills is seen by the Commission as a supporting activity of programmes on the grounds that languages are an essential part of the exercise of European citizenship and that the European education area will the richer for being multilingual. Over and above the particular problems of the British in terms of foreign language mastery, dealt with above, witnesses stressed the importance of this commitment.

  148.    Lord Smith of Clifton (Q 174) and Mr Reilly (p 15) drew attention to the Commission's existing commitment to the promotion of minority languages, which could have the effect of reducing funding for major language exchanges. The Minister and the CVCP thought it important to recognise the amount of teaching which was done in English, in countries such as Denmark (see para 68 above). The priority of the programme was mobility, rather than the fostering of minority languages. It was therefore legitimate to target English language provision within the programme, as well as targeting minority languages.

  149.    Lord Smith of Clifton (Q 175) and CEURC (p 98) stressed the importance of teaching non-European languages as well as European languages in universities, in order to broaden cooperation activities at a global level.

  150.    Evidence has already been cited of the need for incentive payments to universities to set up courses, especially for non-linguists. In addition, the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council suggested targeted cooperation schemes between Member States (p 13).

  151.    Witnesses were divided as to whether schemes and courses such as these should be set up within a flexible institutional framework of European commitment (CEURC (p 98), CVCP (p 48)), or whether they should be organised at Community level (Dr Drake (Q 157)).

  152.    The Committee agrees that the priority of the programme is mobility, rather than the fostering of minority languages. We therefore consider it legitimate to target English language provision within the programme, as well as targeting minority languages.

  153.    The Committee recognises the tension between giving priority to minority languages in the programme and responding to embedded student preferences in exchanges. However, we would like to see more language teaching built into the programme, both to promote cultural exchange and to encourage study in a foreign language.

  154.    The Committee therefore recommends that the Commission build incentive payments for language development into the new programme's funding.

  155.    We also recommend that, while doing all it can to preserve the viability of minority languages, the new programme should recognise and respond to the overwhelming demand for English language courses. The growing trend to use English as the lingua franca in the academic world should not be ignored.

 (vi) Institutional Contracts and Co-Operation Networks

  156.    When the Erasmus programme was initially set up, exchanges were arranged by interested academics, who forged networks with academics in other EU universities at the level of departments or faculties. For each such network, one university department was funded as the coordinator. These partnerships were known as Inter-University Cooperation Programmes (ICPs) (Teichler-Maiworm, Preface).

  157.    In 1997, under the Socrates programme, the Commission replaced the ICP system with a system of institutional contracts, whereby each individual institution made a bid to the Commission for funding to cover all its programme activities, including the management of various forms of mobility and projects for curriculum development. In making a bid, an institution was encouraged to think through its European strategy, which it defined in a European Mission Statement which accompanied the bid. The Commission compensated for the loss of academic partnerships by proposing the establishment of thematic networks, based in general on disciplines.

  158.    The Commission now wishes to see the strengthening of cooperation networks. This issue goes to the heart of the question as to whether the new programme in higher education will be driven (a) by academics, (b) by institutional managers, or (c) by co-operation between the two.

  159.    Some witnesses favoured the change to institutional contracts. Mr Reilly, for example, (Q 27) told the Committee that universities had tended to get a better funding as a result of the institutional contract system, because the funding system was more efficient. Many witnesses drew attention to the positive impact of introducing a system which required institutions to develop, and submit, a European policy before participating in the programme. The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council, for example, thought the institutional contract had already focused institutional thinking (p 14). Hilary Callan said that it was easy to imagine the mission statement becoming "a point of departure" in the future for an institution's own assessment of the relative educational and resourcing priorities to be attached to different European level commitments (p 95). Slightly concerned that the predominance of the Commission programmes might stifle other forms of European educational innovation, she urged university teachers to play a critical part.

  160.    This contrasts with the period before the introduction of the institutional contract, during which, according to the ARIES evidence, the impression conveyed by many institutions was that "Europe was seen as the preserve of a group of enthusiasts" (p 87). The programmes had little impact on middle or long term planning.

  161.    Professor Teichler (Q 208) said that seeing the institutional contracts applied in practice had overcome his initial reservations. He believed that the future of Europe-wide cooperation depended on systematic co-operation treaties between institutions, alongside substantial investment in teacher mobility.

  162.    Miss Jones told the Committee how difficult it had been to operate the changeover from ICPs to ICs (Q 165). The biggest difficulty now was motivating academics, she said. For UACES, Dr Drake agreed, outlining the risk of losing the commitment of expertise which resided with academics and had been a guarantee of the programme's quality (Q 161). She considered that the problem of involving academics was linked with the problem of insufficient funding to provide the common services for the programme .

  163.    CEURC believed that the institutional contract system was biased towards administrative needs rather than academic imperatives (p 99). The CVCP agreed, and said that the institutional contract, while potentially valuable, needed to operate in ways which were sensitive to the culture and organisation of universities (p 49).

  164.    CEURC suggested that the academic network principle could be built back in (p 99). They suggested that networks be built back into institutional contracts as the fundamental form of co-operation. Network partnerships would be included in the contract, and one institution given the coordinating role of any given network. Procedures which focused on international academic co-operation, and thereby on quality assurance and the enhancement of the student experience, should form the foundation of co-operation activities in the interests of pooling of expertise, creativity and diversity.

  165.    The Committee notes that the introduction of the institutional contract has sharpened the European strategy of many higher education institutions, and to that extent, the Committee considers the institutional contract to have been a success.

  166.    However, the Committee notes the concern of those directly concerned with implementing the programmes, that the introduction of institutional contracts has weakened the goodwill and commitment of university teachers and researchers which were the great strengths of the earlier programme. We acknowledge that activities needed to be thought of within an overall strategy, but it is vital that European university co-operation builds on the strength of academic freedom. The new programme must maintain and encourage academic co-operation.

  167.    The Committee therefore recommends that the Commission abandons the strategy of keeping academic cooperation networks separate from the institutional contracts. We recommend instead that academic cooperation should be built in at the heart of each institutional contract.


  168.    In its Communication, the Commission envisages a framework of responsibilities shared between the Community, the Member State and the other partners involved. These partners are defined as regional and local bodies and the voluntary sector, as well as representatives of education (including parents), and economic and social partners.

  169.    ARIES welcomed the Commission's propositions, and said that it should be remembered that universities are major players in economic life (p 90). For their locality and region, they are a source of highly qualified labour, of high level training, of research and development and of technology transfer. They attract young people. They are a focus of cultural life. Across the Community they generate jobs in the millions, and economic activity in the billions.

  170.    Mr Clark (Q 43) noted that some students were deterred from applying for Erasmus places by the competitive job-market in the United Kingdom. If jobs are scarce, students may think it more of a priority to find a job than to spend an extra year studying abroad.

  171.    The Committee agrees with the importance of seeing universities as local and regional poles of development, and supports the Commission's endeavours to involve other parties such as employers, parents and social and voluntary organisations.


  172.    The final topic to which the Committee turned its attention was the management of the programme. There were two aspects of management which warranted investigation: the first was the question of integrating the management of Socrates-Erasmus with the management of other Community programmes; the second was the question whether Socrates-Erasmus could itself be more effectively managed if a different management structure was in place.

 (i) More Integrated Management of Community Programmes

  173.    The Commission proposes that the programme should have more streamlined management, and suggests three practical steps to effect this:

      (i)  a common legal framework for all programmes in the education, training and youth area;

      (ii)  more resources, with greater complementarity with other Community policies; and

      (iii)  lighter management.

  174.    Generally, witnesses were in favour of steps which would promote integration of Community programmes in the areas of education, training and youth. For example, the Minister spoke in favour of integration between education and training (Q 235). Miss Jones urged that consideration should be given to primary and secondary education, and not just higher education, in the attempt to change cultural attitudes in Europe (Q 202).

  175.    CEURC was in favour of a genuine framework, rather than simple umbrella in which education, training and youth programmes could interact (p 98). As a minimum, they saw it as vital to fuse the activities which up till now had been covered by Socrates and Leonardo (i.e. the education programme and the training programme).

  176.    ARIES also argued for co-ordination between the relevant Commission programmes (p 90). A focus of their study was the extent of research carried out by the different DGs of the Commission, much of which was unknown to most universities. They also drew attention to the lack of communication and consistency of approach between different DGs within the Commission.

 (ii) More Effective Management Within the Higher Education Programme

  177.    The Commission's suggestions for more effective management include greater decentralisation to national agencies, and multi-annual programmes.

  178.    Lord Smith of Clifton told the Committee (p 63), that the problems are inherent in the way the EU Socrates Advisory Committee operates. The Committee is managed so as to pre-empt useful input, or the airing of particular concerns. Meetings are normally summoned at very short notice and papers are tabled late.

  179.    Miss Jones noted there had been very little help from the Brussels technical assistance agency to help manage the transfer from ICPs to the institutional contract, but fortunately there had been help from the national agency (Q 200). HEURO drew attention to delays which had occurred in the announcement of key information, and the counter-productive cutting of the technical assistance agency (p 112).

  180.    Mr Reilly (Q 23) and Professor King (Q 121) commented on the time it took under the existing programme to process applications. This resulted in many students dropping out. In addition, ARIES was concerned that selection criteria and procedures were no longer opaque (p 89). The CVCP pointed out that administrative and reporting functions must not create such a burden that managing grants outweighed the benefits of participation (p 49).

  181.    In general, witnesses supported the proposal to increase the role of the national agency, and to decrease the role of the Commission. Such decentralisation would be an improvement in the view of the CVCP (p 49) and all the university witnesses, with the caveat from Lord Smith that decentralisation as a cost cutting exercise would not necessarily help (p 64). The Minister (Q 235) said the government thought more decentralisation and simpler procedures would widen access.

  182.    The Commission's suggestion for upgrading the national agencies role was also welcomed. The Minister approved (Q 236) as did HEURO (p 111) and the CVCP (p 49). Professor Sibson (Q 130) though the job could be done on the present resources if the agency (run by Mr Reilly) no longer had to invest resources in acting as a post box for Brussels.

  183.    The Committee welcomes the Commission's intention of integrating the new higher education programme with other Community programmes in the fields of education, training and youth.

  184.    The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposals to decentralise the management system. In the Committee's view, an increased role for the national agency would increase the efficiency and flexibility of the programme, thus widening access to students currently unable to participate, and would help to encourage students not to drop their Erasmus places.

  185.    As our enquiry progressed it became increasingly clear to us that in terms of UK education policy, Europe can no longer be seen as an add-on. The European dimension of our own national education strategy can not be ignored.


  186.    The Committee believes that the matters considered in this Report raise important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and we make this Report to the House for debate.

11   Teichler-Maiworm 8.2.1. Back

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