5th December 1997 at 00:00
A quick dash across the Channel this month brought Edith Cresson, the European + commissioner for education, training and youth, to London for two days.During + her visit the former French prime minister made a speech at the London School + of Economics and Political Science and had lunch with the grande dame of the + Department for Education and Employment - Baroness Blackstone.She would not + reveal whether the subject of tuition fees for higher education was mentioned, + and did not want to be drawn on her opinion of the Labour Government's policy; + but she did concede it could add to the obstacles already preventing students + learning at universities in different member states. Her office in Brussels has+ raised the issue with Mario Monti, the commissioner responsible for the + internal market regulations, who said fee charges in the UK could increase red + tape for continental students. "Most European countries do not charge or if + they do it is a very small symbolic amount. The commission can suggest, propose+ and help to encourage mobility of students in Europe, but education policy is + still national policy," she said. The official line is that whatever applies to+ students in the UK should also be the same for students from other EU + countries. She said she appreciated the change in the UK's attitude towards + Europe since the election of the Labour Government. "Without any doubt there is+ a very positive attitude and change of climate. "We can discuss things much + better - not that we always agree - but it is encouragin g that the attitude is+ so positive and in the field of education this Government wants to make a very+ specific effort. I think this will be a great benefit to the British + citizens." She admitted that she does not envisage having any more big ideas + in education during the UK's presidency, launched today. She sees it as a time+ for consolidation and completion. "We have first to continue what has been + started, that means to implement the Fifth Framework Programme for Research [a + four-year programme backing research activities]. It is still not very + easy."And there are the same old problems to deal with. One of the great + bugbears for those espousing greater mobility of students within the EU has + been the lack of progress in getting recognition of qualifications. Only + recently a graduate at Southampton University had to petition the European + Parliament to get her BSc degree in astronomy and physics recognised so she + could do a PhD at Madrid University. Mme Cresson shrugged and said: "This is in+ the hands of the member states.We of course insist at the commission that when+ a student has spent a period of time in another country this should be + recognised. European Union universitie s are very independent institutions and + for the moment we do not have the possibility of making them comply."She said + there were other obstacles to mobility, for example, different tax and welfare + systems. The quintessenti ally chic commissioner had a shaky start to her job. + But although she is mastering her brief much better, she is still criticised by+ politicians. One, who declined to be named, called her performance + "underwhelming". She points to a number of successful initiatives she has + launched, including her "second-chance" schools which aim to rescue those who + have failed or been rejected by the education system. A family learning centre + in Leeds has been chosen as the UK's first and every member state now has one. + She said: "The schools will form a network and will be able to share + experiences and build up a model - which is not a unique model. Brussels does + not want to impose anything on anybody...I could repeat that several times," + she said with a smile. It was only after some prompting from her official that + she admitted the second-chance school scheme was not initially supported by + every member state. "Pouff," she said. "There is always opposition to + everything...Yes the Germans and the Scandinavians ... but they all have one + now. I opened the first in Marseilles which has had great support from + businesses. "Here specialists in working with 'problem' children and other + agents from health and the social services work together. The pupils have to + sign an agreement to show while they have rights, they also have obligations as+ well. They must say they will behave well and if they break something they + must repair it. They are aged 16 and 17 and must learn to take charge of + themselves."Mme Cresson has not enjoyed a wonderful press in the largely + Euro-sceptic British media, and every time she is mentioned her alleged remark + that all English men are homosexuals gets an airing. "Pouff! I don't read the + English press, apart from the Financial Times - and of course The Times + Educational Supplement. The French papers are bad enough."