PEERS have accused the British government and university vice-chancellors of "a serious failure of leadership" over student mobility in Europe.
They have concluded that a lack of coordination between universities, government departments and agencies has led to an imbalance in the import and export of European students. The imbalance is costing Britain Pounds 100 million a year.
A "more positive and strategic approach" to student exchange under the European Community's new Socrates-Erasmus programme is needed to encourage more British students to study on the continent, they say.
In the report of a House of Lords select committee inquiry into student mobility, published today, peers reject calls from some government officials for Britain to cut its losses by turning away thousands of students from continental Europe.
The imbalance in the flow of Erasmus students into and out of the United Kingdom, which has helped to leave Britain a net importer of 45,000 European Union students, is of concern "only in so far as that imbalance reflects a reluctance on the part of British students to take part in the programmes", the report says.
The government needs to talk to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council to see how to foster a more positive image of studying abroad among British students, peers suggest.
Evidence taken by the committee from Baroness Blackstone, the higher education minister, "reinforced the impression that there is no single coordinating voice drawing together a UK strategy on Socrates-Erasmus".
Lord Smith of Clifton, who chairs the UK Socrates-Erasmus Council, told the committee there had been "a serious failure of leadership at corporate and government level" over the issue.
The committee noted that the CVCP does not refer to Europe in its corporate mission statement. It urged the Department for Education and Employment to "stimulate the CVCP to work out a national European policy".
The committee calls for the government to take immediate steps to improve foreign language teaching in schools, and to support intensive language courses in universities.
The funding councils should set up incentive funding to support such courses, it suggests.
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