Skip to main content

Higher Education: ERASMUS Scheme

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will maintain the fee waiver after 2012 for students spending a year of their university degree courses abroad through the ERASMUS scheme; and what plans they have to extend the waiver to students going outside the European Union.

My Lords, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has made the ERASMUS fee waiver available for the 2011-12 academic year for students at English institutions which participate in the ERASMUS programme. No decisions have been made on the fee waiver for future years. An announcement will be made in due course. The ERASMUS programme is limited to exchanges within the European Union and five other countries so the question of extending the fee waiver to students going outside these countries does not arise.

I thank the Minister for that reply and declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages. Will the Minister accept that there needs to be more long-term certainty about the fee waiver because the quality and even the survival of modern languages degrees will be threatened if universities cannot afford to offer a year abroad or if only well-off students can afford to take one, even though the experience and skill that they acquire is what employers say they want? Would the Government be prepared to consider a package of measures to encourage linguists and others by increasing the proportion of the fees covered by the waiver by freezing the loan interest during the year abroad and offering financial incentives to universities to run programmes in Europe and world wide?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that there is a need for long-term certainty and I say that as the parent of a child who is about to make decisions about universities as he completes his AS year. Obviously that is something that the Government will do and I hope that colleagues will be able to make a decision as soon as is appropriate. We also understand the point underlying the noble Baroness’s Question about the importance of improving and encouraging the teaching of foreign languages. We are glad that there has been an increase over previous years. Although there has not been an increase in the proportion of the cohort going in, there has been an increase in overall numbers. We will certainly make a decision as soon as possible.

My Lords, we welcome the Government’s support for ERASMUS, but although we have spent £3.1 billion on that programme over six years few of our students take part in it. A significant number of students with disabilities do not get places at all and apprentices in advanced apprenticeships cannot operate there either. Only one in four students who come from a STEM background can get a place on an ERASMUS course. Is it not time that the Minister, in negotiating the new ERASMUS programme, renegotiated the terms of this very useful but ill-focused programme?

My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of the ERASMUS programme. I can give him an assurance that my right honourable friend David Willetts has written recently to the appropriate Commissioner about where ERASMUS should go in the next seven-year cycle. His more detailed points about dealing with disabled students and others is another matter, but we will certainly do what we can to encourage ERASMUS and its development. That is why my right honourable friend has written to the appropriate Commissioner.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that since the start of this programme in 1987 more than 2 million young people have benefited and for many of them it was the first time they had lived abroad and studied, so it is a cultural phenomenon. If this programme is stopped or curtailed it will be a shattering blow to the Government’s social mobility agenda. Will the noble Lord keep that in mind when making that decision?

My Lords, I agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord said. No one is talking about stopping ERASMUS; we are talking about encouraging the Union to make changes to ERASMUS as it develops. The specific Question about fee waivers is a detailed Question for Her Majesty's Government and one that colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will consider and make the appropriate decision in due course.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the limiting of fee remission to those aged up to 25 studying for a first full level 2 and specified level 3 qualification will negatively impact on disabled people seeking apprenticeships, because they can take rather longer? Will he agree to look at the matter again?

My Lords, again, that would be a matter for the European Union to look at. Again, I will pass that question on to my right honourable friend and I am sure that it is one that he will want to take up with the Commissioner in his further consultations about the future development of ERASMUS.

My Lords, ERASMUS is an important scheme to gain valuable work experience and language skills. Applicants to that scheme are not the only group who would like a fee waiver from 2012, as more than 70 per cent of universities will be charging the maximum fees of £9,000 per year. Has the Minister seen the outcome of the High Fliers Research study published today, which finds that more than half of current final year students would not have gone to university if they had faced fees of £9,000? Given those findings and the consequences to the Exchequer of higher than budgeted fees, how will the Government square extending access with deficit reduction? Is it time for another pause to go to listen to the public?

My Lords, the noble Lord takes us slightly beyond the Question on the Order Paper. We have on a number of occasions debated the whole question of the reforms that we are bringing in; we will have further debates on them in due course, and I look forward to taking part in those debates. This Question is about ERASMUS, which is a much narrower point than the one that the noble Lord is asking about.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me where the ERASMUS project is physically based, because the European Union Commission, with uncommon felicity, managed to put the EUREKA programme in the Rue Archimède?

Oh dear. I am afraid that I cannot answer my noble friend's question as to where it is physically based. The best answer would probably be that I think that it is based in Brussels, but if it is not I will write to my noble friend to let him know.