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Lord Moser: My Lords, I wish I were clever enough to answer with another limerick, but I cannot. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, on his maiden speech, and also on all that he has already done over these many decades to enrich our lives and inspire us. He has certainly done that for me throughout the years in which I have been interested in public and political life. It is lovely to think that we will be able to hear him on future occasions.

I was very pleased to be part of this committee, and would like to add my gratitude to the Chairman and our clerk for a very readable report. I read it in bed once or twice, and it did not send me to sleep.

I shall confine my remarks to the university side of lifelong learning. We discussed and had witnesses on all the various phases of the complex world of lifelong learning, including the informal as well as formal. However, we could not cover everything in the report which, of course, I totally endorse.

The Erasmus programme is rightly regarded as a respected flagship of the whole educational training programme. We all approached it with enthusiasm and a touch of idealism. For me, one of the disappointments of the whole operation was that not all our witnesses—nor all the evidence, even from government—were as fully idealistic as I was.

Erasmus deals with the whole area of linkages—scholarship, research, teaching and so on—between our countries, and is rightly regarded as one of the bits of cement for the European future. That explains our enthusiasm.

There is also much evidence—some, but not all, anecdotal—that Erasmus exchanges enrich the lives of youngsters who go abroad or come here from abroad. Very remarkable stories came our way, and I have no doubt that it is a magnificent programme when fully achieved. Personally, however, I believe that we are very far from fully achieving it in this country.

In passing, because Erasmus has been a success story, the Commission proposes a pretty massive expansion: by some 50 per cent over the next six or seven years. We in the committee support expansion, but not as ambitious an expansion as is proposed. It is not just that it is difficult to see it happening in terms
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of numbers, but also that, if expansion is a priority, it ought to be in expanding grants to students, universities and so on—in other words, to funding existing programmes, rather than just shoving more numbers into Erasmus. I hope that the Government will address the central issue of Erasmus funding and grants to students, teachers and institutions.

This brings me to an absolutely key point. Our enthusiasm for Erasmus was diluted a little by the poor participation that we found on the British side. That goes both ways: inwards and outwards. This is most easily shown in the figures. We had lots of evidence that Britain is no longer the preferred destination; it is now France or Spain. British universities do not seem all that keen on encouraging inward migration to their numbers. Incoming students do not bring fees, they cost money and there is not enough money for university departments to cope with the administration. That is one disappointment.

More disappointing to myself and the committee is the outward situation: in 1994–95, 12,000 students from this country participated in the programme; by 2003-4, the number was down to 8,000. The Spanish and French numbers have risen; the total has risen; but our figures have fallen very substantially.

Once again the language issue comes up. Britain's situation on languages, to which several noble Lords have referred, is nothing short of pathetic and a disgrace. I know that the Government have in place a number of activities but they do not yet measure up to what I regard as a shameful national situation. It is certainly one of the factors that hinder British students who go abroad. There are other problems, but that is almost the main one. There are financial problems in meeting the cost of going abroad and universities are strapped for money. Therefore, the whole activity is fairly marginal.

Although in this country we have a rather splendid story to tell about lifelong learning, not least informal lifelong learning; the Open University, which has been mentioned; and other kinds of distance learning, we have everything to go for in encouraging more students to go abroad and experience excellent continental universities and, above all, getting students to come to this country.

I end by expressing my enthusiasm for the report and its recommendations, for the Erasmus programme and all that it can do for Europe, but expressing quite severe personal disappointment at the relatively poor take-up in both directions. In my view, that calls for a serious government review of both directions of exchanges so that we can play a bigger part in this excellent programme.

6.31 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend Lady Thomas on the very lucid and interesting report that she and her Committee produced and in saying how much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock.

The proposals described in the report relate to a series of programmes that provide for exchange visits, networking, partnership and joint teaching projects
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between students, teachers and trainers in schools—the Comenius programme; universities—the Erasmus programme; vocational education and training—the Leonardo programme; and adult education—the Grundtvig programme. Those four combine with a series of other programmes and fit into the framework of what is currently called the Socrates programme. In addition, we have the Jean Monnet programme, promoting European studies in universities across Europe, the Minerva programme, which is related to ICT, and the Lingua programme, which relates to language teaching.

The new proposals for the integrated action programme for lifelong learning provide greater linkage between some of those other programmes. In particular, as I understand it—I was not a member of the committee—it is proposed that the Erasmus and Leonardo programmes should be better integrated together, especially at the higher levels of vocational training. It is also proposed to introduce what is termed the transversal programme—a most unfortunate term, if I may say so—which is a cross-cutting programme that will pick up on a number of issues such as policy development, language promotion, data collection and evaluation and dissemination. As we have heard, that new integrated programme will cost something like three and a half times more than the earlier set of programmes. With the new programme, we have been promised a simplification of procedures, application and monitoring, a reduction in barriers to participation, better co-ordination of programmes and more devolution to local agencies, such as the British Council.

As a teacher at Sussex University, I had a good deal of involvement with the Erasmus programme. After two years of study at the university, many of our students, some of whom were major students in language but took other subjects such as economics or science and did language as a minor subject, went abroad in their third year and then came back. I saw indeed the transformation from little Brits to little Europeans in that process. As many noble Lords have suggested, it was so encouraging talking to them when they came back and seeing the degree to which their minds had been opened to new ideas. They came back stimulated and with a much wider and better view of the world in many respects.

In reading the report I therefore found myself greatly endorsing the conclusions reached in paragraphs 195 and 196:

Yes, that is certainly true. But here I depart from the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock: I am not confident that there are direct links from this to the Lisbon objectives
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of competitiveness. Yes, in indirect ways—the report brings this out—there are enormous gains, which we would be foolish to throw away. However, in respect of the direct links to competitiveness; to what firms want, if we are concerned with training people better, the best thing we can do with our young apprentices might be to take them to Germany and train them in Germany for the full three or four years of their apprenticeship rather than to give them a chance to go for just two to three weeks to see what goes on over there.

I do not discount the advantages to their trainers of going over there, but I found myself questioning the statement by Professor Vickerman, quoted in paragraph 84, who,

of competitiveness. They are a vital component to the European agenda, but I am not sure that they are necessarily to the competitiveness.

I endorse very much the conclusion:

but the report stresses the long-term rather than short-term payoffs.

I also query the title. Is it really an integrated action programme for life-long learning? What is being proposed here? It is access to a series of European programmes which, if one gains access to them, gives one the chance for wider cultural links and for learning more about what is going on elsewhere. But what are the integral parts of life-long learning, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, was saying? It is in many senses the ability to go back into education and train and retrain.

Education rightly remains a national priority. It is a question of whether our national system gives us that advantage. As the noble Lord, Lord Moser, said, in Britain we have for a number of reasons a good system that enables people when they get older to train and retrain. I pick up what the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said: there are still many holes. If we are really to build in this country an integrated programme of life-long learning we are looking to the Government to do it, and it is for the Government to provide, for example, some equality for part-time students to the position of full-time students in our higher education institutions.

I again question whether this is the right term, because as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, to too great an extent and not just in this country, these European programmes are marginal. They are add-ons to the national education system. They do not provide an integrated programme of life-long learning, and we across Europe have to create such programmes in our own countries if we are to move in that direction.
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I endorse what has been said about languages. The current position in this country is utterly disgraceful. Whether we will get to the Barcelona objective of having two modern languages taught in our schools and not just one, I do not know. It is good to see that we are beginning to get the primary school programme up and running, but the disastrous situation in our secondary schools, in which modern languages are dropping away, is doing far more harm than good. It is indeed a sad situation.

I echo what has been said about the small amount of the Grundtvig grant. I was interested to hear during our NIACE briefing that Grundtvig was seen as being important, and opening up ideas about best practice in adult education. This is precisely what one should be getting from these European programmes.

I shall finish with two queries. One is about evaluations. It is extremely important that these programmes are monitored and given proper evaluation. Almost inevitably, if you survey those who participate in a programme and have aspirations to do so again, and if they have enjoyed it, as most of them do, you get a positive response. However, within the European Union we often use as evaluators for these programmes the very people who initially set them up, and whose own ideas were incorporated in their strategic direction. It is important that we do not have this degree of incestuousness in evaluation.

Lastly, I shall refer to paragraph 29 of the recommendations, and the Government's response. This is the issue of the international strategy on the part of British Government. The Government say firmly that they have three high priorities: equipping children for life in a global society, engaging with international partners, especially Africa, in achieving their goals, and maximising the contribution of education, training and the universities and university research to overseas trade and overseas investment.

If this is their aim, why are the Government making it more difficult for overseas students to come to this country by raising visa costs, and even by threatening to withdraw the right of appeal over their visas? Why are the Government doing that when we know that it is their aim to bring more overseas students to Britain if they can?

6.43 pm

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