The Impact of European Community Training Programmes
on the Scientific Labour Market in the UK
(Theme 2: Human Resources/Labour Market issues in European S&T;)

Dr Josephine Anne Stein
Dr Nicole Kurtz


This project set out to provide an overview of national and European programmes for promoting researcher mobility in Europe, to analyse international aspects of educational systems in the European Community (EC), to characterise the labour market for scientists and engineers in the UK and other EC countries, and to identify the key policy issues facing employers and public authorities in the UK.

Main Results

Labour market conditions for scientists and engineers in the UK have been dominated by a combination of growth in student numbers and the economic recession. The UK was the only European Community member state in which government R& D expenditure declined in the latter half of the 1980s. Industrial R& D expenditure declined in 1989, and has not grown appreciably since. As trends in hiring research personnel tend to lead R& D expenditures, this is consistent with observations that British industry has stepped back its recruitment of scientists and engineers in the early 1990s. Although there is anecdotal evidence that British employers are tending to hire UK nationals preferentially, unemployment amongst recent UK graduates appears to be causing more students to stay in higher education, and deterring others from entering science and technology in the first place.

The completion of the Single Market and political steps towards European Union have brought the UK system into abrupt contact with the rest of the European Community. International education and training for scientists and engineers has become important to companies seeking to Europeanise their business operations, to higher education institutions preparing students for employment in Europe, to public authorities seeking to improve regional and national positions in Europe, and of course to scientists and engineers themselves. The UK supports some schemes for international education and training, but it is the European Community that provides the most extensive opportunities for UK scientists and engineers.

European Community research fellowships and educational exchange schemes such as COMETT and ERASMUS have had a substantial impact in the UK. Nearly a quarter of UK ERASMUS students go abroad to study mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. Both incoming and ongoing students are very enthusiastic about the value of these exchanges, as are most academic staff. However, there is some concern in the UK about the costs of hosting foreign ERASMUS students, especially as several thousand more come to the UK each year than British students going abroad.

The UK sent the most students abroad in COMETT II, and in receiving students, organising courses and training projects, the UK was second only to France. The UK is a popular partner; two thirds of all proposals submitted in 1992 involved a UK partner.

The Human Capital and Mobility scheme supports roughly three quarters of all European Community research fellowships exchanges. The UK is the most popular destination for individual fellows, having more than one third of the host laboratories in the EC. The UK also has the greatest number of host laboratories for institutional fellowships and is the member state with the greatest number of participants in networks. The Framework Programme supports additional research fellowships, and it also provides UK-based postgraduate students with indirect exposure to research practices in other European countries.

Interestingly, the Office of Science and Technology's recently published Forward Look does not refer to the international dimensions of education (other than to acknowledge the research income that universities receive from the Community). Nor does the Forward Look address the European dimension of the labour market, or the needs of UK industry for an internationally-educated and trained scientific and technological workforce.

UK policy is in striking contrast to other European countries in which internationalisation of the science and engineering community is integral to national policy. For example, the Dutch government is committed to internationalising its entire educational system, even for Dutch students enrolled in Dutch universities who will find employment in the Netherlands. France also has an explicit policy to internationalise both its student population and the scientific workforce. Germany and Belgium are implementing educational exchange programmes, primarily on a regional basis. Ireland and Portugal represent another kind of country, in which European Community schemes are integrated into national policies for education and employment of scientists and engineers. Only in Italy is there a comparable focus on reform of the national educational system to meet national employer demand for graduates.

There are certain practical barriers to European educational mobility. COMETT, ERASMUS and EC research fellowships have suffered poor takeup because of the length of time required to set up exchanges, and mismatches between academic calendars. There are only five weeks of the year in which universities in all parts of the European Community are in teaching session. Information about European opportunities is fragmented and relatively inaccessible, as it arises from so many different quarters and is often aimed at specific groups of people within individual countries or specialised professional occupations.

As exchanges and internationalised curricula develop across Europe, there is no systematic assessment of courses or qualifications. The European Course Transfer System is embryonic and completely voluntary; the determination of equivalences of degrees and diplomas is done on a case-by-case basis. The challenge of developing a comprehensive approach is complicated by the educational reforms under way in a number of European countries. Although a number of so- called 'Euro' degrees are offered by universities or academic/industrial consortia, external recognition is virtually non-existent.

Despite the predominance of national educational systems and labour market conditions in the EC countries, a Europeanised labour market is gradually emerging as a cumulative result of EC and other programmes for international education and training. International recruitment and employment are no longer unusual.

Implications for Policy and Practice

The Single Market guarantees equal access to education for all European Union nationals and the free movement of labour. Therefore, any structural differences between either educational systems or national labour markets could lead to imbalances in mobility. This raises the policy question of where the responsibility lies for underwriting the costs of education, which are substantial for science and engineering courses. Should it fall to the home country, the host country, or the employer, who may be based in yet another country? Should the European Community, given greater responsibilities for education and training under the Maastricht Treaty, assume greater financial responsibility as well?

When the research was first proposed, it was on the basis that inadequate attention had been paid to the relationships between the European Community's Framework Programme, non-Framework programmes for the education and training of scientists and engineers, and the European Social Fund. European Commissioner Antonio Ruberti subsequently identified the issue of greater synergy between these programmes as a European Union priority. Two new research projects are being sponsored by the European Commission, one on EC Research Fellows in the UK and another on International Education and Training of scientists and Engineers and their Employment in European Industry, as an outgrowth of this research.

UK national policy on international education and on the internationalisation of the scientific and technological workforce is underdeveloped compared to other European countries. Therefore, we plan to submit a proposal under stage 2 of The European Context of UK Science Policy to carry forward the research in synergy with the EC projects referred to above.

References/Further Reading

Stein, J.A. and Kurtz, N., 'International Education and Training of Scientists and Engineers in Europe: A Bibliography', Programme of Policy Research in Engineering Science and Technology (PREST) (Jan 1994)

A draft manuscript on 'The Europeanisation of Science and Engineering Education' has been prepared and will be submitted to The Oxford Review of Education or a similar journal.

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