NPC/05/01/A: Response to a Call for Evidence from the Select Committee on the European Union

by Jim Ewing

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee of the United Kingdom welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation on the Proposed European Union Integrated Action Programme for Life-long Learning.

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is the primary representative body of postgraduate students and researchers in the United Kingdom. We host and address meetings and conferences, share best practice, respond to consultations and campaign for the advancement of postgraduate education in the United Kingdom. We co-operate closely with other democratically-elected student bodies who share our goals, including Eurodoc, of which we are the UK constituent member.

As a charity (no. SCO33368), NPC is bound to respond solely to the parts of the Proposal which are relevant to its remit. Consequently, we limit ourselves in this response to the parts which refer to the Erasmus programme, either directly or indirectly.

Proposal for a DECISION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL establishing an integrated action programme in the field of lifelong learning

Explanatory Memorandum

NPC welcomes the distinction made between higher education on the one hand and vocational education and training on the other by the Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci programmes respectively [2.1]. The difference between higher and further education is primarily not one of degree but of kind and, while there are certain overlaps and scope for further co-operation between the two sectors (we note the transferral of advanced vocational education from Leonardo to Erasmus [3.2]), they are fundamentally different and should be generally regarded and treated as such.

As a member of Eurodoc, NPC further welcomes the Jean Monnet programme to support action related to European integration and European institutions and associations in education and training [2.1, 3.4]. Funding to help the various postgraduate associations across Europe has been gratefully received in the past and a clear programme to support this will facilitate greater co-operation with a view to further integration.

NPC welcomes the financial commitment proposed by the EU to this programme and endorses its aim "to support the achievement of the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010" [2.2]. We also note that it is intended that Erasmus receive the highest guaranteed minimum amount of funding to be made available to the four sectoral programmes, subject to Article 15 of the Decision [Annex B.8].

Notwithstanding the previous paragraph, NPC believes that higher education provides more than a competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy and is to be pursued for its own sake as a civilizing and enriching influence for society at large and for the individual. In view of this, we hope that funds are not to be distributed solely or even primarily on merit of the perceived utilitarian value of the course pursued by the applying student and we wonder how funds are to be distributed among the various disciplines.

NPC welcomes a simpler and more flexible programme [2.3], with administrative and accounting requirements "appropriate to the size of the grant" as eminently sensible.

NPC welcomes a more decentralised programme [2.4] as the UK systems of higher education differ from those of the rest of the EU, for example over PhD researcher status (student or employee?) and duration of courses. Giving UK agencies control over how money is spent should allow existing systems to continue if desirable while still benefiting from EU funding.

TITLE II CHAPTER II

The Erasmus programme

NPC notes that postgraduate students are not specifically mentioned among the groups at which the Erasmus programme is specifically aimed [Art. 22] and that the only mention of research in Article 22 is of "research centres and bodies concerned with lifelong learning issues" [(g)].

NPC welcomes the envisaging of mobility arrangements [Art. 24] and especially for students on joint masters programmes in a country other than the one in which they gained their Bachelors degree [2(b)]. EU-wide mobility is currently a major topic of discussion within Eurodoc and the realisation of this vision would be warmly and widely welcomed.

Notwithstanding the previous paragraph, NPC notes that, with reference to postgraduate education, Article 24 limits mention of Masters students to those on Joint Masters programmes, effectively eliminating all other Masters students and also PhD researchers. NPC believes that postgraduate study, especially PhD research, is lifelong learning [see Art. 5 (1)(a)]. We recognize that Early Stage Researcher Training is already provided for PhD researchers under the EU 6th and 7th Framework Programmes; however, postgraduate research, especially at PhD level but also occasionally at Masters level, sometimes requires forays beyond campus and even national boundaries and the proposed Erasmus programme would serve very well for this. Also, taught Masters students in general, as well as those on formally-constructed Joint Masters programmes, could also benefit from these proposals. Students on EU-based taught Masters programmes should be free, like undergraduate students, to use the Erasmus programme to take part of their course at a recognised Institution in a second EU-member state.

In conclusion

  • We broadly welcome the proposed European Union integrate action programme for life-long learning;
  • We stress that Higher Education is about more than achieving "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy" and call for funds to be distributed bearing in mind that more than the perceived utilitarian value of the course;
  • We call for the Erasmus programme to be expanded to include postgraduate students and researchers, especially those on Taught Masters programmes but also for those on master by research and Doctorates.