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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, it is a real honour to be the first speaker from this Bench to welcome my noble friend Lord Kinnock to our debates. I hesitate to congratulate my noble friend on his speech; to be frank, it would be like an apprentice complimenting Rembrandt on his latest painting—being so new to the studio myself. I will simply say that my noble friend knows the extraordinary regard and affection in which he is held, and his standing as, in many ways, the prime architect of Labour's rebirth and return to government.

It is also directly relevant to our debate to pay tribute to my noble friend's latest public service in taking on the chairmanship of the British Council, bringing to it his huge energy and inspirational leadership. The council has done an impressive job in recent years under its excellent chief executive, David Green—in particular, helping to stimulate the surge in overseas student numbers, including students from within the EU and wider Europe. That increase in numbers still continues. Now that the London 2012 bid has been successful, the British Council will have a still higher profile in the years ahead. We are extremely fortunate that my noble friend will be at the helm.

The House is indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and to Sub-Committee G for its thorough and incisive report which we are debating. As several noble Lords have said in our valuable debate, the report could hardly be more timely—given the debate on budgetary reform in the EU, and Britain's assumption of the presidency, at the heart of which is the Lisbon agenda. Nothing is more important than skills, education and life-long learning in achieving the Lisbon objective of making the EU, by 2010, the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. Or, to accept the amendments made by my noble friend Lord Giddens and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, a knowledge, service and creative industry-based economy.

Your Lordships' report, and our debate, will help inform the Government's stance as we undertake the presidency—including the chairmanship by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills of the Education and Youth Council. There will be an informal meeting of education ministers in London next week, and a full meeting of the council in November. I can certainly give the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the assurance she sought—that the proposed EU integrated programme for lifelong learning will be central to these discussions. We will seek to craft them to meet our own concerns.

I am also sure that the report of your Lordships' sub-committee, and our debate, will be studied by the Commission itself, not least as it draws up its report on the future of the European social model for the special
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European Council, which, it was agreed last week, will be held in the autumn. The Prime Minister's speech to the European Parliament last month could not have set out more clearly our high-level objectives, which I know are shared on all sides of the House. We will seek to make as much progress as possible towards them under our presidency.

I also commend the work of the UK Erasmus-Socrates Council, the national agency for the Erasmus programme and the hard work and commitment of our universities, schools, colleges and other partners to the programmes we are debating. The council's director, John Reilly, is a fervent exponent of the value of mobility programmes.

Your Lordships' report rightly stresses that, while the objectives of the European programmes are vital to the EU's development and cohesion, the great bulk of the effort required to attain them is organised and funded at national or sub-national level. Under the principle of subsidiarity, that should continue to be the case. We acknowledge that fact and support subsidiarity. The point was well made in that regard by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The EU's total education and training budget this year is €613 million, compared to upwards of €500 billion being spent on education and training by the 25 member governments and their sub-national governments. Either we get integrated, lifelong learning right at the national level or we are unlikely to get it right at all.

Even if the full 3.5 times budget increase for the EU integrated programmes were agreed, the prime movers in virtually all areas covered by the EU programmes—including student mobility, research, life-long learning, language learning and exchanges—would continue to be the member states and their institutions. Indeed, the EU's impact, even in its areas of greatest influence—such as student mobility—is often greater in its indirect than direct operation.

For example, Erasmus, the largest of the EU's Socrates programmes, about which the noble Lord, Lord Moser, spoke, has an annual budget of about £125 million. It provides for about 135,000 students to study in EU countries other than their home country. Yet an estimated 340,000 EU students studied in other EU states in the last year for which we have figures. The majority of these 340,000 studied outside the Erasmus programme. Yet, of course, they all took advantage of the EU's legal provisions, which provide for free movement of study at no less favourable tuition rates than those applying to residents of the country in which they study.

The point also needs to be considered in reference to the specific concerns mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, about the decline in incoming and outgoing Erasmus students in the UK. I hesitate to discuss statistics with the noble Lord as I am sure that I will come to grief quite quickly. I shall acknowledge in a moment where he certainly has a very sound point in regard to the numbers leaving under the Erasmus
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programme. However, in terms of the numbers coming from the European Union and the wider Europe, the latest UCAS figures show a very healthy 16 per cent increase on last year in the overall number of undergraduate applications to study here from the EU 25, including non-Erasmus sources of mobility. That includes an 8.5 per cent increase from within the old EU 15.

Similarly, the latest Euro student survey published last month shows that in seven out of a total of nine surveyed countries the UK is the first overseas destination for students who wish to leave their own country. So in terms of incoming students the overall position is very positive despite the relative change in our Erasmus position. However, in terms of outgoing students that is not the case, and I shall have more to say later about language learning in particular, which has been mentioned so powerfully in the debate.

In its overarching recommendations the sub-committee's report calls on the Government to develop a strategy for implementing the new integrated life-long learning programme and to publish a clear statement of the importance we attach to it. We are seeking to meet both recommendations. Last November the Department for Education and Skills published a new ambitious international strategy entitled, Putting the World into World-Class Education. One of its three key goals is to equip our children, young people and adults for life in a global society and for work in a global economy. In respect of the European programmes we have set up a working group of key partners, including university representatives, the learning and skills councils and the key agencies, including the British Council and the UK Socrates Erasmus Council, chaired by my department's international strategy director, to recommend how we can increase take-up and widen participation socially in the European programmes—a very powerful point made in the sub-committee's report. The working group will report in the autumn and we shall seek to improve our own support for the programmes in the light of its recommendations.

I now move on to four of the key areas raised in the report; namely, targets and budgets, Erasmus participation, language learning, which has been mentioned by virtually every speaker in this debate and life-long learning and the vocational programmes.

First, as regards targets and budget, we certainly cannot accuse the Commission of failing to think big about the future of its own education and life-long learning programmes. Noble Lords referred to the action programme that proposes that one in 20 school pupils be involved in Comenius; 3 million Erasmus students be in place by 2011; 150,000 Leonardo placements per year by 2013; and 25,000 Grundtvig study visits per year also by 2013, along with a 3.5 times increase in the budget to make all that possible.

The sub-committee raised questions about the ambition of these targets. In our view—I choose my words carefully—those questions are perfectly fairly put. As the House knows, the Government are not in
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a position to agree a budget for the proposed EU life-long learning programme until the overall EU budget has been agreed. The Government believe that the EU budget in the next financial perspective should not exceed 1 per cent of EU gross national income and the life-long learning programme will need to be consistent with that. However, as the Prime Minister said in his speech to the European Parliament, it cannot be right in the 21st century for the EU to spend seven times as much on agriculture than on the crucial areas for growth of research and development, science, technology, education and innovation combined. That principle will underpin the Government's stance in the forthcoming negotiations.

On the issue of Erasmus participation, your Lordships' report rightly highlights the challenges we face. I referred a moment ago to the new group that we have established. As regards outgoing students, we are giving much wider circulation to the Study in Europe publication produced by the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council and will look to do more to increase awareness. As regards financial incentives, last year we amended the student support regulations so that Erasmus students had access to higher rates of student loans and benefited from not having to pay any tuition fees for the year they spent abroad. We are committed to maintaining that position in respect of Erasmus students after the introduction of variable fees next year, which will provide an additional incentive to prospective Erasmus students.

However, we all know that inadequate languages are a serious barrier to wider British participation in Erasmus. I shall tackle that issue now. I will not attempt to paint a rosier picture than the facts merit. Your Lordships are too familiar with the facts for me to get very far in that regard. Our language skills as a nation are not improving as fast as we would wish, and certainly not as fast as we need. That weakness starts at school level. It was a reflection of the reality that a proportion of teenagers are not motivated to study languages in the last years of secondary school that in the previous Parliament we took the step, which has been widely criticised, including in this debate, of allowing schools not to make a modern foreign language compulsory for all students in the two years leading up to GCSE. I stress that a modern foreign language remains compulsory for the first three years of secondary school, and that language learning is an entitlement for every student up to 16 years of age.

There has been a universal call in this debate and in your Lordships' report for a concerted programme to improve language learning in schools. We entirely accept that imperative and believe that we are meeting it. To rise to the challenge we face, the Government are taking forward three ambitious inter-related policies to improve language learning, backed up by more than £100 million of extra investment announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills this March, specifically to support new and enhanced provision in languages.
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Let me describe the three elements. First, we shall introduce languages into the primary school curriculum systematically, overcoming a key weakness in the British system. Many speakers have said that, mostly, we start learning languages too late, hence the poor motivation by the mid and late teenage years.

My noble friend Lady Massey referred to the difference between state and private schools in key stage 4. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, the reason for that acute difference in key stage 4 is because of the acute difference in key stage 2 between the two sectors. In the private sector languages are nearly universal and usually well taught. The state sector has been given nowhere near the same degree of attention either to teaching or provision in the past. Hence, it is our commitment that by 2010, every child within key stage 2—7 to 11-year-olds—should have the opportunity to study a foreign language and the culture of the nation or nations that speak those languages.

My noble friend Lady Massey, who is ever acute, asked whether we had delivered on a set of specific issues relating to that commitment. She asked whether we had yet appointed the national director for language education. We have done so; Dr Lid King was appointed last year, and I am looking forward to meeting him shortly.

My noble friend asked what we were doing about training. To boost training to make our primary school policy possible, we have for the first time started training primary school teachers nationally, with a specific languages specialism. One thousand two hundred new teachers have already been trained, and we intend to train a further 5,000 new teachers in the next five years. In addition, we shall train 30,000 existing primary school teachers and teaching assistants to teach languages.

We are already seeing improvements at primary level. Nearly half of all primary schools in England now offer some form of languages provision, which is up from barely one in five only four years ago, and we intend to make substantial progress in the immediate years ahead.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked whether we were making sufficient use of ICT and digital technology in the development of languages teaching. In particular, she suggested a pilot of cartoons using DVDs. I am told that we are doing precisely that. For example, last year we funded the development of digital learning materials for primary pupils in Spanish. I am told that those materials have a range of interactive games, songs and activities, including a dance mat, and that similar programmes have been developed in Japanese. We are looking to other subjects, so we are on the case. I hope to write to the noble Baroness with even more details of the other languages in which this is being made available.

Secondly, at secondary level, we are building up an entirely new category of secondary schools that are establishing centres of excellence in language teaching in addition to their normal teaching of the national curriculum. This is taking place within the Specialist
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Schools Programme. There are already 200 such languages colleges, and we intend that there will be significantly more as the great majority of secondary schools enter the programme. Specifically to meet the demand for more languages colleges, we are providing bigger financial incentives to encourage them. A typical specialist school currently receives £120,000 a year over and above its standard budget to develop its specialist provision. From next April, we intend to increase that sum by £30,000 for languages colleges to make the option more attractive and to give new and existing languages colleges greater resources to share their languages expertise and facilities with other schools—both primary and secondary—in their own localities.

The third part of our languages strategy is to improve significantly the national infrastructure to support languages learning. We have given more than £3 million this year to support the National Centre for Languages and its network of regional Comenius centres.

In response to work on the best way to encourage people to learn languages, we are also establishing and funding an entirely new recognition scheme for language learning, for use in schools and more widely, called the "languages ladder". It is akin in its structure and philosophy to the long-established music grade system and tailored to encourage individuals to progress at their own pace, with proper recognition and incentives to progress from level to level. The new languages ladder will be available in eight languages, including all the main European languages, from this September, with a further 15 available from next year.

The EU education and training programmes also have a valuable role to play. Of 836 Comenius-run projects in 2002, 490 had foreign languages as a curriculum theme and the take up of Comenius is increasing.

I note the points made, particularly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Neuberger, about the operation of Comenius and the sometimes extreme levels of red tape involved for quite small sums of money for participating in the programme. We are very mindful of these concerns and we will seek to address them in partnership with local authorities.

I turn now to life-long learning and the vocational programmes. Improving participation of the most disadvantaged in the new integrated life-long learning programme is a priority for the Government. We believe that simplified and more flexible procedures are required and, taking up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that we should make much greater use of ICT and distance learning.

I should add that we are completely committed to the Open University. I am well aware of the concerns that have been expressed on this issue, particularly in your Lordships' House. Discussions are ongoing between the Higher Education Funding Council and the Open University, and, indeed, a number of noble Lords who have concerns about the OU are meeting my honourable friend the Higher Education Minister to discuss this matter directly.
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Under the current life-long learning programmes there are initiatives specifically for people with disabilities. In addition, Grundtvig—a title which I suspect will remain despite the bid by my noble friend Lord Giddens to have it renamed, perhaps by himself, a very distinguished sociologist—will continue. We want to see the adult learning sub-programme, Grundtvig, play a much larger part in the programme as a whole.

Several noble Lords referred to the 3 per cent figure and whether it gives adequate recognition to Grundtvig within the overall programme. It is our policy to see a greater emphasis put on Grundtvig within the revised overall programme. Within Grundtvig itself, we want to see a much greater emphasis placed on the educational challenges of an ageing population in Europe—as rightly emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross—and on providing adults with alternative pathways to improving their skills and competencies, areas which are not covered by the current Grundtvig programme but which reflect the changing demographic reality in Europe.

I should add that Grundtvig is currently oversubscribed in the UK—it is in a very different position to the Erasmus programme—and is clearly addressing a very real need. Both the number of applications and approvals have increased year on year.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made some telling points about employer influence. Having recently set up the sector skills councils—we welcome the noble Lord's engagement with them—we are anxious that they should play a role and have a significant input into the design of the new Leonardo projects. I shall certainly ensure that his remarks in that regard are passed on to those conducting the negotiations.

In conclusion, we recognise the challenge ahead to imbed life-long learning and to strengthen the European dimension at every level within it. The report last November of the High Level Group, chaired by Wim Kok, on the Lisbon strategy put it starkly: if Europe is to compete in the global knowledge society, it must also invest more in its most precious asset—its people.

We endorse that view unreservedly. It is the policy of investing in the skills of our people which we are pursuing at home. It ought to be the policy of the European Union and, as we take on the presidency of the EU, we will seek to take this agenda forward, including in the negotiations over the action programme for life-long learning. The excellent debate we have had today will help us to do that. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part.

7.14 pm

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