European mobility plans 'not radical enough'

Lords call for more study abroad

October 18, 2012

Proposals to increase the number of British students heading to continental Europe to study are too modest, a House of Lords debate has heard.

Lord Giddens of Southgate, former director of the London School of Economics, said he was disappointed by the “modest approach” adopted by a Lords committee examining how student and staff mobility could be increased.

The Lords EU subcommittee, headed by Baroness Young of Hornsey, recommended the introduction of modern language teaching in all primary and secondary schools, and the allocation of more cash to research, innovation and education in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 budget.

More flexible short-term placements should also be made available under the Erasmus scheme, which provides grants for students to study abroad, said the report, The Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe, which was published in March this year.

But Lord Giddens, a signatory to the 1999 Bologna Agreement to harmonise Europe’s higher education systems, said in the debate on 11 October that “more radical” action was needed. “Europe is going through an existential crisis and the status quo is not an option,” noted the peer, a leading sociologist.

“Europe is going to look very different in five or six years’ time - everything will need to change and higher education is one of those areas. I don’t think it is right to take a modest approach. (The committee’s report) could have been much more adventurous.”

Meanwhile, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, a former lecturer in economics at the LSE, said the UK was “scoring an own goal” by blocking increases to the EU’s 2014-20 research budget.

The EU’s seven net contributors - Austria, France, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK - have refused to increase the Horizon 2020 budget by 6.8 per cent to around £81 billion.

“This is a programme where our universities do disproportionately well,” she pointed out.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick, a former diplomat, believed the government’s stance was a “wasted opportunity”, as support for more education and research funding could help the UK to shape the upcoming budget.

Elsewhere in the debate, Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, founder of Cobra Beer, said the student-visa ban at London Metropolitan University had done huge damage to the UK sector.

“I am on the board of three business schools and applications from India have plummeted,” he said. “The message (the visa ban) sends out across the world is: ‘We do not want foreign students’.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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