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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Universities reject Europe fears
University lecture
The European Higher Education Area will be in place by 2010
University heads in the UK have rejected warnings that the European Commission is trying to wrest control of higher education from member states.

Universities UK said there was "no sign of a conspiracy" to take over the process of making degrees more comparable across Europe.

The Commons education select committee had expressed concern about European Commission plans for universities.

The commission said it was simply playing a supportive role.

The role of the commission must be constrained
Barry Sheerman, Education Select Committee chairman

The university chiefs were responding to concerns from MPs about the setting up of a "European Higher Education Area" by the end of the decade - within which university qualifications from 46 countries could be compared and equated.

In the MPs' report on the on-going work of this "Bologna Process", the cross-party committee said the expanding role of the EC was its greatest concern and that it should be "circumscribed".

While welcoming the work on the process generally, Labour committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "The role of the commission must be constrained if the Bologna Process is to be successful."

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

Examples were given of attempts by the EC to take control of the quality assurance and regulatory aspects of higher education across Europe - all of which were resisted by the universities themselves.

The content of teaching and the organisation of education systems is a matter for the Member States
Reijo Kemppinen
Head of the European Commissionin the UK

These concerns were reflected by Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell who recognised the dangers of "mission creep" and said the EC had gone too far in a number of areas.


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

The head of vice-chancellors' body Universities UK, Professor Drummond Bone, said "threats" from the EC had not actually materialised.

His colleague Vice-President of the European University Association Professor Sir Roderick Floud said the Commission had put money into parts of the process concerned with student mobility and employability .

"But there's absolutely no sign of an EC conspiracy to take over the process."

The MPs had got the wrong end of the stick in their report, he suggested.

Professor Bone said the great strength of the process was that universities, students and other interested parties were driving it and it was right that this was allowed to continue.

The European Commission refuted suggestions it was trying to meddle in the higher education sectors of its members states.

Head of the European Commission in the UK Reijo Kemppinen said: "The content of teaching and the organisation of education systems is a matter for the member states.

"As well as participating countries, the Commission participates in the Bologna process along with other international organisations, stakeholders and social partners in a supportive role."

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