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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
MPs issue Euro university warning
Graduation ceremony
Britain's universities pride themselves on their autonomy
MPs have warned against the European Commission trying to wrestle control of higher education from member states.

The education select committee has urged the government to safeguard the interests of UK universities.

The cross-party committee is reporting on the ongoing process for making qualifications more comparable across the European Union.

It urges ministers to ensure the EC is "appropriately circumscribed". The EC has not yet commented on the report.

The role of the commission must be constrained if the Bologna Process is to be successful
Barry Sheerman
Committee chairman

The efforts to develop a European Higher Education Area by 2010 are known as the Bologna Process.

In their report, the MPs say they repeatedly found the language used in the process - and its very name - "obscured meaning in an unhelpful manner".

The head of the UK university standards watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency, told the committee the EC was "using the Bologna Process for its own purpose".

Peter Williams explained that the commission had wanted to set up a European quality register which would control all universities across Europe.

The proposal was ultimately diluted, but had it gone through in its original form, control over higher education would have moved away from the national scene to Europe, he said.

"It is an indication of the way in which ... the commission wanted to pursue its own policy objectives," he said.

The commission wanted to expand the qualification framework to cover all higher and further education which it would "prescribe and control".

'Mission creep'

Education committee chairman Barry Sheerman said he was "deeply concerned" about the expanding influence of the EC.

"The role of the commission must be constrained if the Bologna Process is to be successful."

But given the globalised higher education market in which Britain operated, it was important to be involved, he said.

He urged the government to seek clarification of the exact role of the commission in the process, at a ministerial summit next month.

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell had also voiced worries to the committee about the expanding role of the EC.

He recognised the dangers of "mission creep" and said it had gone too far in a number of areas.

'Elite'

But responding to the MPs' report, Mr Rammell said overall the process would mean students' being able to move more freely between European universities.

There would be opportunities from a wider pool of staff, students and researchers through increased links and collaboration.

Students today and in the future will be competing for jobs in a global marketplace, and so it is vital that engaging them in the Bologna Process is prioritised
Wes Streeting
National Union of Students

He added: "We want to influence the changes, not stand by and watch while change happens around us."

The head of vice-chancellors' body Universities UK, Professor Drummond Bone, said the report confirmed the process was about "compatibility and comparability" rather than "harmonisation".

The great strength of the process was that universities, students and other stakeholders were driving it, he said.

National Union of Students vice-president Wes Streeting said it was vital that students in this country, who were being sold an "elite" education, had their qualifications recognised abroad.

"Students today and in the future will be competing for jobs in a global marketplace, and so it is vital that engaging them in the Bologna Process is prioritised."

But the Institute of Physics warned the report failed to address one of its main concerns, that some of the UK's degree courses might be considered second rate by the rest of Europe.

Masters degrees in the UK take one year to complete compared with two years in much of the rest of Europe.




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