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Baroness Greengross: My Lords, It was a privilege to serve on Sub-Committee D. I enjoyed it very much and learnt an enormous amount, partly due to the admirable chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I share the overall positive view of the committee about the programme, and certainly of its potential, but agree that much better analysis is necessary, otherwise one must question the wisdom of enlarging the funding in one fell swoop to the levels envisaged without much more careful planning if the funds are really to be used well.
I shall concentrate on the balance in the programme. At present, the programme planned for the future does not fully take on board the implications of the enormous demographic revolution taking place across Europe. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, in his excellent maiden speech. He and I have discussed the ageing of the population on numerous occasions and it was interesting to hear about his huge experience in European matters, among many others.
We must, at a European level as well as nationally, change our view about what is education. Our training patterns, career paths and ways of working will have to reflect the new demographic patterns. We already do not have jobs for life, but we must understand that people need to learn, change jobs, retrain and work in new jobs throughout their life course. We hear all the time about how we can have more incentives to ensure that more people stay in work for longer during their life course. We must also give people the opportunity to be in work for longer, if they are to be encouraged to save more to have a decent retirement.
The proportion of the budget intended to be allocated to the new programme is really out of kilter. If the Grundtvig programme, which could be one of
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the more successful parts of the new programme, is to succeed, it cannot do so on 3 per cent of the total budget. That is ludicrous. If we just think of the number of mature students in this country, let alone throughout Europe, who could take advantage of it, that is ludicrous. The Commission must do something to give the programme more balance when allocating resources, which really ought to reflect the numbers in qualifying groups within the population. We are, after all, the most mature continent in the world.
I also endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said about the appalling levels of bureaucratic nonsense. These are a real turn-off to many schools and colleges which would like to take part in the programme with more enthusiasm. They are unable to cope with the current allocation of funds, for all sorts of reasons. Compared with other countries in Europe, it is quite expensive to invite students to stay in this country. The admin funds do not cover the true costs of that, and there is nonsense in the funding which means that, in many schools and colleges, the teachers or programme administrators have no replacement if someone goes off on maternity leave. This was among the evidence that we heard. So some poor administrator, who is often also a lecturer, has to take on the administration of the programmelooking after students who come from other countrieswithout sufficient, additional administrative funds to make their stay here agreeable, or indeed possible. They have no staff to help in doing that, which must be looked at.
I would also like to see more flexibility in the periods for which people are invited to come to our country, or to go to others. If we look at older studentsand if life-long learning is to become a realitythen we must recognise that if one has a family, particularly with young or school-age children, it is difficult to go away for the lengthy periods suggested, or rather required at present, to make the programmes work well. So much more flexibility is needed, especially in the times for which people can go abroad. They should enjoy the experience, but not have immense problems with their family for doing so. We also need to recognise the problems that people have in rural areas, if they have to travel long distances. The funding does not consider these difficulties that people have to take on board.
It was moving to hear evidence from college administrators about the self-confidence, pride and ambition fostered in many school and college students, particularly those coming from deprived areas of the country, or from disadvantaged groups. Once they had the possibility of taking part in these programmes, it was really encouraging to hear how much they enjoyed and benefited from them.
I am saddened that the programmes seem to be seen by Her Majesty's Government, and by many educational establishments in our country, as rather marginal. In spite of the excellent work done by the British Council, there is not enough knowledge about what these programmes can do for people, or the opportunities they can bring. I echo the lament of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and our chairman about language learning in this countryand how poor performance in that affects our trading position
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across Europe. That does not bode well for our shared aims in Europe from the Lisbon agendato be part of the most highly skilled and successful continent in the world.
It was also interesting, and rather sad, to learn that many young people from other European countries who want to learn Englishnow the lingua franca in Europe, after allchoose not to come to the UK but to other European countries, particularly to Spain, in order to learn English. We must do something about that if the programme is to expand. I do not think that they go to Spain just for the sunshine but because it is rather expensive here. There is insufficient support and funding and administrative costs are too high to make a visit to this countrywith our great history, which we share with so many of our European neighboursa profoundly enjoyable and interesting experience for the many students who ought to come to enjoy it.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, I am particularly grateful to be with noble Lords today. As I set out from my flat off Russell Square to take my usual bus from Woburn Place I heard the explosion that ripped off the top of one of those buses which are my habitual means of transport. In the wake of that heinous crime, I was particularly grateful to the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, who declared,
It is perhaps good that we are talking about the importance of an EU integrated action for our common values today.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Kinnock for the opportunity to hear his second maiden speech. He is the finest orator of his generation. My wife and I were grateful for his inspired address to our comrades of the Cheshire West and Wirral constituency in Ellesmere Port in 1994. I am grateful, too, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and all her staff and advisers for the report that we have produced and for her tour d'horizon in presenting it today. My contribution will be a smorgasbord of thoughts.
The integrated action programme deals with lifelong learning which is thought to be an integral part of the Lisbon agenda. However, is the Minister as worried as I am at the reformulation by President Barroso of the objectives of the Lisbon agenda, from which I fear that lifelong learning might fall off the edge as it becomes more economically focused? Can he tell us that this programme will contribute to Europe's competitiveness? It is economical and should be retained and supported.
It is also part of a topical debate that chimes with Prime Minister Blair's concerns that we currently spend more on the CAP than on research and development, education and training, transport and other infrastructure, which are designed to generate jobs and prosperity.
A second worry is that the existing programmes, which we found were very good, were often cut off from mainstream education. That must be corrected. We discovered a wealth of enthusiastic and committed
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practitioners involved in those programmes. I highlight the bureaucrats, the educational administrators, those doing the EU programmes from the University of Kent and the animateurs stimulating schools in Bristol and East Yorkshire to take up the programmes. We should remember that they who stand and administrate also serve. I also highlight the teachers and lecturers involved. Mention has already been made of the three school heads in Suffolk who combined to give children experience of the European Union, bringing parents into the process, which must be highly beneficial. The Government have not squandered their goldmine of unsung heroes and can help, for instance, by relieving the small schools that must pay for supply staff when teachers embark on these important programmes.
We could also help by avoiding the red tape that sometimes floods the opportunities for people participating in these programmes. These EU programmes deal with very small amounts of money. We should ensure that the audits demonstrate a light touch but still deter thevery rarelight-fingered.
In the FE sector, the Learning and Skills Council worryingly evoked EU rules that stopped it cross-subsidising some of these very small funds from ESF. Why is that the case? We should sweep that kind of bureaucracy away. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned Grundtvig and I know that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, would have particularly liked to have focused on that issue today. I also ask: why is it 3 per cent? Why so small an apportionment of the funds available for this important area of adult and continuing education?
Yesterday, I presided over a lunch at my Alma Mater, the University of Warwick, where I met a woman who has benefited from the 2+2 programme offered by the university. In the first two years mothers with young children are able to concentrate their lessons between 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock so that they can deal with the children going to school or wherever and still start on the road of doing an important degree.
I also want to turn to languages. I am the proud father of my son, Adam, who got a first in Russian and French last week. I was very pleased to see his graduation. But I am anxious about government language policy. I do not think that it is well focused on the single European market. Our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has already highlighted the CILT report and has quoted the piece that I was going to use, so I shall quote another piece that emphasises not just the business case for language in doing deals, but also the economic case for languages. It is,
"not a call for a narrow 'vocational' educational curriculum, but for high quality, culturally rich language teaching for all our young people".
We should not neglect that opportunity for our young people.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, also mentioned the importance of business involvement in these programmes. I share his disappointment that the CBI was reluctant to make a contribution. Again, this is
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part and parcel of the Lisbon agenda and business must be part and parcel of the integrated approach that we are trying to develop.
The small business sector is particularly important. It should be brought into these programmes. We have some evidence that small businesses are being helped and encouraged but they are the pioneers in the small market and we must ensure that they have adequate language skills to work their way round Europe and find British jobs round Europe. They should also be able to participate wholeheartedly in the further development of these programmes. I am very happy to have been associated with this report and I hope that the Government take it up with the energy that it deserves.
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