Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


EDUCATION AND LIFELONG LEARNING: STATISTICS (15615/05)

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP, Minister for Life-long Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills

  Your Explanatory Memorandum dated 27 February was considered by Sub-Committee G on 23 March and again on 30 March.

  We are sorry to see that the voluntary collection of these statistics does not appear to be working but are very reluctant for it to become compulsory. We would be grateful if you would explain why the Government seemingly accept that voluntary collection cannot work and that compulsion is unavoidable.

  We share your concerns over the ill-defined and potentially open-ended nature of the requirements under Domain 3 and support your efforts to ensure that those requirements are better-defined. We are anxious that the need for this additional information should be fully justified and that collection will not impose unreasonable burdens on educational institutions or other bodies. As the proposed requirements become clearer we trust that you will consult fully with those organisations who will be expected to contribute the information to assess the likely costs and benefits before agreeing to take part.

  Although you appear to be less concerned about the requirements proposed under Domains 1 and 2, we note that your EM says that the "content could expand a little". We would urge you to keep a watchful eye on the potential impact, as negotiations develop.

  The proposal that new data collection requirements could be added through Comitology procedures also gives us some concern. We would be glad to know whether you consider that arrangement would be an adequate safeguard against unreasonable additional impositions.

  We hope you will succeed in ensuring that the Regulation makes clear that it does not prejudice the sole responsibility of Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of national education systems.

  We also agree strongly that the current UK policy of voluntary participation by educational institutions in international and EU surveys should not be changed.

  Your EM reports that Council Working Group discussions have only just started, but we would be glad to know whether a timetable for Council consideration has been fixed.

  We are retaining this document under scrutiny pending your reply and will expect you to report any significant developments well before a Council decision is needed.

30 March 2006

Letter from Bill Rammell MP to the Chairman

  I am writing to answer the questions in your letter of 30 March 2006, and to update you on the negotiations.

  You asked why government seemingly accepts that voluntary collection cannot work and that compulsion is unavoidable. No other country is opposed to the Regulation on principle and in its entirety. Countries with concerns similar to the UK's have focused on the issue of open-ended powers for the Commission. Had we opposed the Regulation altogether it is likely that the UK would have been outvoted heavily and lost influence in Council. Many countries, especially the new accession states, cannot produce statistics for the EU if there is no specific EU legal basis. Therefore the proposal should improve the availability of statistics from other Member States and consequently provide a more thoroughgoing set of comparators for UK education and training. A legal basis has proved workable and not unreasonably burdensome regarding the Continuing Vocational Training Survey, and for the European Labour Force Survey which includes questions on education.

  You shared my concerns about the ill-defined and potentially open-ended nature of Domain 3 in the earlier draft of the Regulation. I am pleased to say that the negotiations have averted that danger. The Presidency has now circulated a compromise proposal; which has been agreed by all 25 Member States, in which it is made explicit that Domain 3 refers to existing data only. There is now no loophole open for the Commission to introduce new collections or expansions to existing collections. The Commission, however, has expressed a general reservation against the text, on the grounds that it restricts flexibility with regard to new or extended data collections.

  As to Domains 1 and 2, which cover statistical work in which the UK already takes part, I am confident that the UK's representation on the relevant committees gives enough scope to resist any proposals implying unwarranted data collection burdens.

  You were keen that the Regulation should safeguard Member States' responsibility for the content of teaching and the organisation of national education systems. The new text contains an explicit reference to this at paragraph 5 in the opening recitals:

    The Council has adopted in May 2005 Conclusions on "New indicators in Education and Training". In these Conclusions the Council invites the Commission to present to the Council strategies and proposals for the development of new indicators in nine particular areas of education and training and stressed that the development of new indicators shall fully respect the responsibility of Member States for the organisation of their education systems and should not impose undue administrative or financial burdens on the organisation and institutions concerned, nor inevitably lead to an increased number of indicators used to monitor progress.

14 July 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Bill Rammell MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 14 July which was considered by Sub-Committee G on 20 July.

  We are pleased to note the progress made in Working Group negotiations, as reported in your letter, on virtually all the concerns raised in my letter dated 30 March.

  We accept what you say about the need for compulsion in this exercise and note that you are confident that the UK will be able to use its representation on the relevant Committees to resist the imposition of any unwarranted data collection burdens so far as Domains 1 and 2 are concerned.

  As for Domain 3, we are glad to know that the Presidency compromise text will leave no loophole for the Commission to introduce new collections or expand existing ones. We trust that the support of other Member States and the new provision about not imposing undue burdens in paragraph 5 of the opening recitals will be sufficient to ensure that the Commission's reservation about lack of flexibility will not undermine the essence of the compromise text.

  We are also reassured by what you say about the new language of paragraph 5 of the opening recitals so far as the responsibility of Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of national education systems is concerned.

  Although you have not said when the proposal might be submitted for Council decision we are content to release the document from scrutiny to enable you to support a Council decision in favour of the Proposal, so long as it embodies the safeguards outline above. We would be grateful if you would let us know in due course, for the record, when the Regulation is adopted.

20 July 2006



 
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