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Education

AM’s fears for local higher education

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Students given the chance to learn in Welsh face cuts

Students given the chance to learn in Welsh face cuts

PLAID CYMRU AM Simon Thomas, has raised fears about the future of local higher education, following a large cut in funding to the sector from the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government announced its draft budget last month featuring massive cuts to the Higher Education budget, affecting all higher education institutions in Wales, including the Carmarthen-based Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

There are 15 staff of the national all-Wales Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol based in the office in Y Llwyfan, Heol y Coleg, Carmarthen.

The Shadow Education Minister: “I’ve been contacted by many people who fear for the future of our universities locally.

“The Welsh language Coleg Cymraeg, a newly founded institution based in Carmarthen, is just one of the higher education institutions which will now be underfunded and struggling to compete.

“Cutbacks of 32% for Higher Education in Wales will take £41million out of universities’ budgets whilst the Welsh Government is increasing its funding for English universities to £90m through its tuition fees policy.

“This is a scandalous admission from this government that it is pursuing short-term headlines instead of making long-term commitments.

“It will make it difficult for universities to widen access to Higher Education for students from all backgrounds, and the Welsh Government has questions to answer over how it intends to ensure a fair playing field for all students.”

An independent report by Universities Wales last October assessed the impact of Higher Education in Wales it discovered that 1512 full-time jobs in Carmarthenshire are generated by university activity and 542 in Pembrokeshire.

The contribution to the local economy was £8.2m in Carmarthenshire and £27.3m in Pembrokeshire.

The Coleg Cenedlaethol ensures more study opportunities for Welsh medium students – in partnership with the universities.

Since 2011 £18m has been invested in universities across Wales by the Coleg, with 115 lecturers appointed in universities in a large number of subjects including: medicine, geography and drama.

Their £1m scholarship scheme has benefited over 600 students that have received bursaries.

When the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol was established by Welsh Government in 2011, funds were allocated for a period of six years, up to 2017, to implement the recommendations of the report compiled by Professor Robin Williams. More than £30m has been invested thus far in the further development of Welsh medium provision, with the majority of the funding used to appoint new Welsh medium lecturers.

Over 115 new Welsh medium lecturers have been appointed as a result of Coleg funding and an extensive range of other activities are being supported across the higher education sector, including the development and provision of new resources, enhancing the student experience, facilitating collaboration between universities, providing scholarships to students and academic staff training, and working with schools and further education colleges. These activities have already led to a situation where an additional 1,000 full-time students are now studying through the medium of Welsh.

We asked Coleg Cenedlaethol to respond to the cuts and Mr Thomas’s comments.

We received a statement which set out the institution’s viewpoint and considerable concerns about the potential damage caused by a cut in funding.

From the outset, the Coleg was seen as a long-term project to ensure that Welsh medium university education was available to students in a wide range of subjects. The lecturers are distributed across the universities. The fact that so many of these lecturers are early career academics means that there is now a generation of lecturers who will, in time, be able to develop and embed Welsh-medium provision and thereby transform the situation in the universities.

The biggest challenge at present is to maintain what has been achieved during the first five years, and to build on it, at a time of considerable pressure on public funding. In Professor Ian Diamond’s recently published Interim Report, there is a section that deals specifically with Welsh medium provision, including the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. It is also stated that further attention will be given to Welsh medium provision during the next phase of the Review. The Coleg believes that this presents an excellent opportunity to establish permanent and sustainable arrangements for maintaining Welsh medium provision in the universities and, in particular, to recognise the additional costs associated with that provision.

In this context, the Coleg is very concerned that short-term decisions in relation to the Coleg’s budget for 2016/17 will undermine the existing arrangements, thereby jeopardising much of what has been achieved, at a time when the Diamond Review could recommend a durable solution.

Recognising the current financial climate and the savings required by publicly funded bodies, the Coleg’s Board of Directors, at their meeting in November 2015, identified savings across the Coleg’s range of activities so that a budget can be set for the academic year 2016/17. The proposed budget would enable the Coleg’s activities to remain viable while discussions take place on the funding arrangements for 2017/18 and beyond. The Coleg has also held constructive discussions with the universities about their commitments to maintain provision following the end of some fixed-term grants provided by the Coleg.

The publication of the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016/17, however, creates uncertainty, since there is a possibility of a further and substantial cut in the Coleg’s budget. This is a cause for concern and, for that reason, the discussions are ongoing with the Welsh Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

The Coleg does not intend to make any further public comment until those discussions have been completed.

Rebecca Williams, Policy Officer for UCAC education union, told The Herald: “UCAC has very serious concerns about the proposed 40% cut to the Higher Education budget, and indeed about the Welsh Government’s current funding methodology.

“By channelling such a high percentage of the Higher Education budget through students in the form of tuition fee grants, the Welsh Government is ensuring that millions of pounds are flowing from the Welsh budget directly to universities over the border, mainly in England.

“At the same time, by substantially reducing the funding it provides to universities via the funding body (HEFCW), the Welsh Government is undermining its ability to influence the sector in key areas such as parttime provision, increasing access to students from deprived backgrounds, and providing Welsh-medium courses. The clear and immediate consequence of such a cut will be the axing of these crucial types of provision.

“Such a move could be devastating to the nature and quality of university provision, the Welsh economy, and the options available to students of all backgrounds. We call on the Welsh Government to revisit this illconsidered and damaging decision.”

Universities Wales, the body which represents the interests of Universities within Wales were equally concerned and have suggested that the cuts are both in breach of the Welsh Government’s current policy on widening access and constitute a reverse of previous policy commitments. In its submission to the Welsh Government on the issue, the Uni Wales says: “The distribution of the cuts between institutions is likely to be very uneven. At this stage we are unclear how the sector can absorb a reduction of this size in a single year or where the shortfall in income can be made. The impact of the fee and funding changes introduced from 2012/13, for instance, has worked through the system already and will provide no significant additional income for 2016/17. Recruitment for 2016 entry is already in full swing, and growth in fulltime undergraduates from Wales remains subject to an overall limit in the sector.”

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Education

Sculpture students to exhibit in New Mexico

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Students from Coleg Sir Gâr’s Carmarthen School of Art will be exhibiting their work in a student exhibition of iron sculpture at New Mexico Highlands University in the USA.

No stranger to visiting America, the department has long-established links within an exchange programme at Kansas State University.

The exhibition takes place from August 17 to September 18 at the university’s Burris Hall Gallery.

Lisa Evans, programme director of the degree honours programme in sculpture at Carmarthen School of Art has connections with arts professor David Lobdell at New Mexico Highlands University. She said: “We are thrilled to be invited to this prestigious event and students are currently preparing work which will be molded, cast and finished by the university in the next few months.

“The work is an open brief, we just have to ensure that we use material that can be used to make moulds and be cast in iron.”

Lisa has also been invited as a panel member at the Western Cast Iron Art Conference at the University of Dakota. The panel addresses international and collaborative activities including iron pours, workshops and performance.

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Education

Westminster wants to ‘value’ degrees

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THE CONSERVATIVE General Election Manifesto was characterised as woefully short on content but long on vague promises of jam today, jam tomorrow, and jam ever after. However, part of its text squirrelled away on page 37, has caused consternation among the UK’s universities.
A reference to the relatively obscure Augar Review into higher education and the Conservatives’ intention to review higher education in light of its content, masks – Universities say – a threat to arts and humanities courses across the UK. The Government’s subsequently announced intention to have Ofsted rank universities by graduate earnings is also under attack.
Among the recommendations of the Augar Review, one stands out above the others. The review makes the case that while subjects like business, the creative arts and social studies have value, the volume of students studying these subjects is more than the value created, while there is a relative lack of provision of courses in subjects like engineering and the physical sciences. In other words, there are too many ‘low value’ courses – the phrase used in the Conservative manifesto – and not enough courses offering a ‘high value’, either to graduates or the taxpayer for their respective investments.
The problem for opponents of the report’s recommendations in that respect is that its finding is undoubtedly true.
There are too many universities offering courses which offer little or no benefit to their graduates, certainly in terms of future earning potential and, too often, those courses are of no relevance to employers and the needs of UK industry. The question used to be how many angels dance on the head of a pin, now it is how many arts and humanities graduates work as baristas on little over minimum wage.
However, the issue of relying upon a solely monetary outcome to measure a course’s overall ‘value’ is problematic.
In a major speech on the topic of value in higher education, UUK President Professor Julia Buckingham called on the government to broaden its definition of ‘value’ beyond a student’s expected future salary alone and to recognise the less celebrated, yet vital benefits of studying for a degree. She also issued a rallying call to the sector to do more to address concerns around value and respond more effectively where there are legitimate concerns.
To support the government in adopting a new approach, UUK is outlining proposed new measures against which it believes universities can demonstrate the success and contribution of their courses. These include the proportion of graduates working in essential public services, the number taking positions in sectors and regions with skills shortages, or the likelihood of a graduate starting their own business.
Universities UK claims, in adopting a new approach, universities could assess and illustrate the wider benefits to students of university life; such as their life satisfaction, personal health, and opportunities to get involved in volunteer work.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “While universities need to work collectively and respond more effectively to legitimate challenges around the value of some university degrees, the government also needs to broaden its current narrow definition of success based on salaries alone. This is a blunt tool which does a disservice to students and recent graduates while failing to consider the wider student experience.
“A much broader approach which takes account the other benefits of a university degree would better reflect what is important to students, parents, employers and society.
“We need to look beyond an individual’s P60 and think about the total package of what they have learned and achieved through their time at university.”
That is all well and good. However, Universities UK’s MadeatUni campaign – intended to show the value universities deliver back to society – contains barely a handful of examples, in over 100 offered, which directly reference value-added to communities by either creative arts or humanities graduates. Its focus is relentlessly upon science, medical, and other public service degree graduates.
Somewhere, it could have mentioned research published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research barely a month after the Augar Review. It reported the arts and culture sector contributes £10.8billion a year to the UK economy. The Treasury gains £2.8bn from the arts and culture sector through taxation. It generates a further £23billion a year and 363,700 jobs.
And, even during the depths of austerity, productivity in the arts and culture industry remains greater than that of the economy as a whole.
The impact on some Welsh Universities, should the UK Government proceed with its plan, could be grim. Not only do Welsh graduates generally earn less because wages in Wales are lower than in England, but also arts and humanities graduates from Welsh universities generally earn little more than had they not bothered to incur debt by going in the first place. Wales – particularly rural Wales – is already subject to a ‘brain drain’. If students see they can earn more by studying, for example, at a middle-ranking English University than a Welsh one, the ‘brain drain’ could accelerate.
Some long-standing courses and the viability of Welsh institutions would also be threatened. Even the most desperate of English-based students trying to find a University through clearing might baulk at paying tens of thousands of pounds to attend an arts or humanities course in Wales which would add little or no value to their prospects
On the other hand, Welsh Universities could exploit a significant difference between them and their English counterparts. Welsh Universities score well in a particular index which appeals to modern students: wellbeing.
According to a poll commissioned last year by Universities UK, only one-third of students and recent graduates decided to attend university to get a higher salary than they otherwise would have.
Modern students, it appears, are more interested in wellbeing and a good experience of being at University than netting a big paycheck once they’ve completed their courses.

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Education

Extra funding for further education colleges

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has revealed details of the additional £23m it will provide to Further Education colleges, including sixth forms and Adult Community Learning, for the next financial year.
It confirmed college staff will receive a 2.75% pay rise after the Welsh Government provided funding of £6m to ensure college teachers receive the same pay as school teachers.
The Welsh Government will also provide an additional £2m to develop mental health and well-being support in colleges across Wales. Up to £80,000 will be made available to individual colleges to support both students and staff. Up to £800,000 will also be available to support collaborative projects between colleges.
The Welsh Government will continue its £10m Skills Development Fund, designed for colleges to address gaps in job-specific skills in their areas, as identified by local employers. £5m will again be available for colleges to invest in staff professional development, including developing digital and Welsh-language skills.
Kirsty Williams, the Education Minister, said: “Our further education colleges play a vital role in post-16 education in towns and cities all over Wales, as well as the wide range of services and employment opportunities they provide to local communities.
“Ensuring students of all ages can access mental health support is one of my priorities and I’m pleased we’re providing additional funding for colleges to develop their front-line support services.
“It’s also been an important principle for me that Further Education staff receive parity of pay with school teachers, so I’m delighted that this year’s pay increase has been agreed.”
Dafydd Evans, Chair of the Colleges Wales Principals’ Forum, said: “We are pleased to offer all FE staff a 2.75% pay rise and an additional rise to those entering the teaching profession.
“Our ongoing partnership with the Welsh Government will enable learners and employers to gain the skills they need while ensuring that FE colleges provide dynamic and rewarding careers for staff.”
NEU Cymru welcomed the extra funding for FE.
David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru said: “The pay rise for those working in FE in Wales is welcome. As well as extra support for much needed mental health provision. We hope that the support for mental health services will extend to those education professionals employed in FE. We know they work hard and need support.
“Pay parity with teachers was always the Commitment to the Welsh Government, as recognition of the parity of the roles. Education professionals in the FE sector are under a lot of pressure, but we hope this will go some way towards helping support FE into the new Century.
“We look forward to seeing the details and hope the funding will enable FE to continue as a much-valued service, supporting young people in Wales.”

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