A FACTUAL summary of the evidence collected as part of the ongoing review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales was published last week. The review, which is being carried out by a panel chaired by Sir Ian Diamond, began in April 2014. At that stage it was agreed that Sir Ian would produce a factual summary of the evidence he and the panel had collected in autumn 2015. Education Minister, Huw Lewis said: “Since April 2014 Sir Ian Diamond and his review panel have made good progress in reviewing a wide range of evidence and data relating to the Higher Education sector and to Higher Education funding. “The report identifies the key themes arising from that evidence, however it does not make any judgement about the validity or significance of that evidence.
Nor does it seek to represent the Review panel’s view or provide any recommendations. These will be presented in the final report which will be issued in September 2016.” Remarkably, the Minister’s statement contained no reference to the key evidence referred to in the report and the bald summary of facts it presented; namely that the current system of funding undergraduate higher education as it is currently constituted is unsupportable. Welsh Conservatives were swift to welcome Professor Diamond’s interim finding, which they claim confirm the party’s long-standing criticism of Labour’s ‘unsustainable’ tuition fees policy. The report’s conclusion that ‘many respondents were strongly of the view that, in light of sustainability concerns, there is a need to revisit the tuition fee grant policy’ was also highlighted by a Conservative press release which pointed out that their opinions had been reinforced by those expressed by Universities Wales, the Learned Society of Wales and in a report commissioned by the University and Colleges Union, which also called the policy ‘unsustainable’.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Education, Angela Burns AM, said: “We welcome the review’s interim findings, which confirm what we have always said; Labour’s policy is entirely unsustainable. “This blunder has always been a misguided vanity project and the evidence against it continues to pile up. Welsh Conservatives are committed to replacing it with a progressive system of living cost support to enable students from all walks of life to get to university.” Mrs Burns restated Conservative claims that the Welsh Government’s commitment to capping the burden of tuition fee loans on Welsh students in England was resulting in Welsh public money subsidising English universities. UCAS’s response to Professor Diamond was particularly telling on that last point: ‘The 15 January (2015) statistical release shows that application rates for Welsh applicants choosing to study at English institutions have further increased, whilst numbers choosing to study at Welsh institutions have decreased’.
There has been an increase of 20% in Welsh domiciled applicants applying to English HE providers since 2010. William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales told The Herald he wanted an alternative system for student finance: “Time and time again we see evidence that the struggle to afford living costs is the number one reason why many people are put off applying to go to university. This is why the Welsh Liberal Democrats would change the system and give students financial support upfront to pay for their living costs. William Powell claimed: “This would be a far better arrangement than giving them money in the form of a loan which they have to pay back over a number of years and simply adds an additional burden of debt.” Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru Shadow Education Minister, said: “There is a case to be made for the refocusing of student support to students studying in Wales, so that Welsh colleges and universities benefit.”
Simon Thomas was clear on the current system’s shortcomings: “The unintended consequence of the current policy – that English universities benefit by millions a year from Welsh government money – must be addressed.” A Welsh Government statement appeared to concede that point, but said the report ‘highlights that Wales is a net importer of students and that as a result Welsh HE institutions receive more in tuition fees from English and other UK students than they pay out to institutions based over the border’. Current higher education (HE) students conveyed mixed views about whether the level of tuition fees acted as a disincentive to young people considering entering HE. Several contributors argued that the sums involved were so large that potential students had become inured to it.
Indeed the fact that it was not a critical consideration for most prospective HE students would seem to support this claim and prospective HE students seemed to take it for granted that they would either earn enough as a result of gaining a degree to be able to pay their debt off relatively easily or, that they would never have to worry about paying back their debt if they did not earn enough. Similarly, HE students alike did not seem themselves as averse to running up debt which would only be repaid in the long-term once earnings thresholds were exceeded. Generally neither current nor prospective HE students were overly concerned about the wider long-term consequences of accruing debt to fund their studies – although student support representatives in particular worried that they ought to be, given that the potential consequences of such debt on longer term prospects (e.g. borrowing for mortgages) was not yet clear. Employers, who generally did not have such a detailed insight into the tuition fees policy, generally thought that the current policy did not seem to be hindering any individuals from enrolling at HE when considering that there was currently an over-supply of graduates within the workforce.
Neither current nor prospective HE students thought that the full £9,000 tuition fees represented reasonable value for money, with some of the more informed current students noting that the idea of a market in HE with institutions offering varying fees had not been realised. It would appear that few prospective HE students had actually given serious consideration to the balance between the costs incurred in attending HE and any premium they would be likely to earn as a result of gaining a degree qualification. Professor Sir Ian Diamond said: “The commitment of so many people to a healthy and vibrant higher education system in Wales bodes well, not only for Welsh Higher Education but, more broadly, for Wales. It further inspires us for the next stage of our work which will be to build on the principles in the interim report to propose a sustainable system of higher education funding for Wales.”
Vital support for job seekers and employers in West Wales
TO MATCH job seekers with employers and career agencies across West Wales, a virtual jobs fair is taking place on Wednesday 9 September.
The free online event will be hosted by Working Wales, which is delivered by Careers Wales, and is in partnership with Job Centre Plus teams across West Wales and the south west and mid Wales Regional Learning and Skills Partnership.
Now, more than ever, job seekers and employers are relying on online support to find jobs and fill vacancies.
The event will run through Working Wales’ Facebook channels and will be split into two regional events covering West Wales mid and south. 10am-11am is for job seekers and employers in Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Powys and Neath Port Talbot. 2pm-3pm will focus on Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Swansea.
Attendees for the free event will have access to a wide variety of job vacancies from many sectors across West Wales as well as expert careers advice to support with job applications.
Working Wales is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and was launched by the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates in May 2019.
Within the first year the service has directly assisted over 37,000 people across Wales.
Careers Wales chief executive, Nikki Lawrence said “We are delighted to be working with our partners in the west to deliver a virtual jobs fair. Our careers advice and guidance is a vital part of supporting the economy during this pandemic, and these online events allow us to effectively and safely continue reaching and supporting our customers during these challenging times.”
To register your interest in these events, follow Working Wales on Facebook @WorkingWales. If you are an employer with vacancies to fill please also get in touch.
Available to anyone over the age of 16, Working Wales provides a one-to-one, tailored employability advice and guidance service, supporting people across Wales with job searching, CV writing, interview preparation, training and upskilling as well as with redundancy support.
For more information on Working Wales visit: www.workingwales.gov.wales or call 0800 028 4844.
Virtual graduation for Class of 2020
UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.
BAME advisor appointed to education post
PROFESSOR Charlotte Williams OBE has been appointed by the Welsh Government to lead a new working group to advise on and improve the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.
Professor Williams accepted an invitation from the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to chair the new ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group.
In 2007, Professor Williams was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to ethnic minorities and equal opportunities in Wales.
Professor Williams said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be leading the working group in advancing this step-change towards integrating Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into the everyday learning of every child in Wales. The goal is that the new curriculum will become a shining example of resourcing and enabling broad engagement in learning and teaching with BAME contributions past and present.
“The challenge is to ensure that Black and minority ethnic peoples have a presence across the new Welsh curriculum so that within all of the Areas of Learning and Experience we can hear the sound of their voices, know of their experience, history and contributions, past and present.
“This requires appropriate resourcing because we want all teachers in Wales to be able to rethink their materials and feel confident in the ways of delivering them to reflect this presence. It’s a very exciting prospect. In this way, our curriculum in Wales will ultimately be reflective of our common experience of a vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society.
“We have a rich history in Wales, built on difference and diversity.
“This isn’t about adding an element of Black and minority ethnic history here and there in the new curriculum, but about reimagining learning and teaching across all the elements of the curriculum so that it reflects a Wales that is, and always has been, ethnically diverse, internationalist in its outlook and progressive in its aspirations.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Our diversity is one of our strengths as a nation and our many histories have combined to shape Wales today.
“I’m delighted Professor Williams will be leading this important piece of work and I look forward to seeing the group’s recommendations.
“The working group will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. The group will also review associated professional learning opportunities and resources. The group will be closely aligned to the review of Welsh history by Estyn, the education inspectorate.
“The Welsh word ‘cynefin’ loosely translates as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, but also conveys a sense that all human interactions are strongly influenced and determined by both personal and collective experiences, such as through stories or music.”
The group will present their initial findings in the autumn, and a full report in the spring.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I’m very pleased Professor Williams has agreed to chair the working group.
“I look forward to receiving the group’s recommendations on learning resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities.
“Wales is made up of a multitude of stories. We must understand and analyse our own cynefin, and make those connections across our communities, nation and the world. It isn’t just about history as a subject, it’s language, literature, geography, and so much more.”
The group will oversee the development of new learning resources in advance of the phased introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.
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