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Lords calls for greater UK-EU mobility

A House of Lords sub-committee today called on the British government to make language learning compulsory in UK primary and secondary schools as one of a range of proposals to improve UK student mobility to the EU.

"Erasmus helps to deliver the kind of well-rounded graduates we want to see entering the job market"

It said the measure would encourage more British participation in the Erasmus programme – in which students study all or part of their degree abroad – which has been historically low and is far from assured in future, due to financial, socioeconomic and cultural barriers.

“The Erasmus programme, in particular, is an excellent scheme, which rightly enjoys a strong reputation across Europe and which helps to deliver the kind of well-rounded graduates we want to see entering the job market,” the committee’s chair, Baroness Young of Hornsey, said.

“The UK’s participation has been historically low compared to other large member states”

“However, the UK’s participation has been historically low compared to other large member states. Making language learning compulsory in both primary and secondary school would be one way of increasing the UK’s participation.”

The proposals are contained in a report released today, which is the culmination of the committee’s inquiry into European Commission plans to modernise European higher education – a key plank of its Europe 2020 growth strategy for the coming decade.

The strategy includes ambitious mobility targets including doubling the number of Europeans studying and training abroad from 400,000 per year to almost 800,000 through schemes such as Erasmus.

The committee called on the government to ensure the continuation of the domestic Erasmus fee waiver scheme, which compensates universities for the time their students’ spend on Erasmus placements, but may be removed after 2013/14 – something likely to raise costs for students.

It also asked the government to support the proposed development of a European Union loan system for master’s students studying abroad. Typically a British student cannot obtain a government-backed student loan for an Erasmus course.

“The government should remain vigilant about any factors that could undermine the higher education sector’s position”

The UK’s low participation in the Bologna Process was cited. The process provides mutual recognition of credits for study and greater co-operation in quality assurance standards among other benefits. It said that while Bologna credit transfer schemes had been fully adopted in Scotland, this was “not yet the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, despite their adoption by the majority of the 47 Bologna countries”.

Another are of concern was inbound mobility. The committee called on the government to “remain vigilant” about retaining the UK’s competitive position as a study destination following reforms, such as the raising of the fees cap last year.

“Increasing competition from continental universities—many of which now provide courses in English with sometimes significantly cheaper fees than in the United Kingdom—means that the government should remain vigilant about any factors that could undermine the higher education sector’s competitive position,” states the report.

The British government will now consider the report and publish a response within a month which will be used in formulating the European Council’s 2014-20 strategy.

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