Education and Skills Committee

30 April 2007

Education and Skills Committee demand European Commission role to be constrained in higher education plans

A Report today from the Education & Skills Committee commends the aim of the Bologna Process: to create a European Higher Education Area to improve the comparability and compatibility of higher education qualifications across the countries involved. It describes the "revolutionary change" taking place across many of the 45 signatory countries to modernise their higher education systems in-line with the Bologna agreements.

It also highlights the willingness and enthusiasm of UK higher education institutions, to be part of the process. Despite the UK's strong position in higher education, it would be a mistake to think we are in a sufficiently advantageous position as to be able to stand aside whilst other countries make progress through the Bologna Process. The report calls for the UK to increase its engagement with the Bologna Process and for the Government to raise awareness and involvement across the higher education sector.

However, the Report warns that it is crucial to preserve the flexible, bottom-up nature of the initiative, which risks being bureaucratized, particularly if the role and influence of the European Commission continues to grow. The Committee describe the expanding role of the Commission as their "greatest concern" and recommend, as the Minster himself told the Committee, that the role of the Commission is "constrained and [...] circumscribed." 1

This must be a priority issue for the Government at the London Ministerial Summit in May.

The Report also urges the Government to address the Committee's conclusion that the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS)2 is not fit for purpose.

An input-based system such as this, solely based on hours studied rather than outcomes achieved, risks undermining the value of British one-year Master's degrees and four-year integrated Master's degrees. This was a major concern to the sector. The Report specifically calls for the removal of the one-year 'maximum' credit limit from the European Commission's User Guide to ECTS.3

The Committee therefore urges the government to continue lobbying for reform of ECTS, which would be aided by a more outcome-focused approach to what is in the Minister's words, currently "the only show in town."4 The Committee have called the Government to act on the Minister's suggestion to develop an alternative scheme along the lines of the recent Burgess proposals for a UK credit system.5

Finally, the Committee say that they have repeatedly found that the language used within the Bologna Process (and indeed the name itself) has obscured meaning in an unhelpful manner. They have said that the lack of clarity in terms such as the "Diploma Supplement" or the "Social Dimension" only serves to hamper what is otherwise a good process. They have urged the Government and others to be more thoughtful in their translation of such terms.

Commenting, Barry Sheerman, Chairman of the Committee said:

" I am deeply concerned about the expanding influence of the European Commission. The role of the Commission must be constrained if the Bologna Process is to be successful. This, and the future of one-year Master's qualifications, must be addressed as priority issues at next month's Ministerial Summit in London.

"Throughout our inquiry, the importance of the Bologna Process has become increasingly apparent€”particularly within the context of the globalised higher education market that we now operate. I therefore commend the UK's involvement and suggest that universities are better informed of the opportunities afforded to them within the European Higher Education Area.

"The Bologna Process must be led by higher education institutions, not the European Commission, and must keep the principle of university autonomy at the heart of the Process."

The Committee has published its report in advance of the Ministerial Summit due to take place in London on 17-18 May,

Hard copies of the report are available under strict embargo from the House of Commons Press Gallery and the Reception 7 Millbank SW1P 3JA from 10.30am on Friday 27 April 2007, to accredited members of the press only.

Requests for interviews should be directed to Laura Humble on 020 7219 2003/ 07917 488 489.

  1. Oral evidence given by Bill Rammell, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills on 31 January.

  2. ECTS is a credit system aimed for the purposes of transfer and recognition, which awards points based on hours studied. Recognition in the UK that any credible system of credit needs to be based on input, level of study, and outcomes achieved, explains why the use of ECTS across the European Higher Education Area, as supported by the Bologna Process, is of concern to the UK.

  3. The European Commission's User Guide states that a maximum of 90 credits can be earned in one year of study and 120 credits are required for a Master's level qualification.

  4. Oral evidence given by Bill Rammell, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills on 31 January.

  5. Universities UK, Proposals for national arrangements for the use of academic credit in higher education in England: final report of the Burgess Group, London, 2006.