EMPLOYMENT and skills ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have called for greater clarity around the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy from April 2017.
Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training Roseanna Cunningham hosted Welsh Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Julie James, Northern Ireland Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry and UK Minister for Skills and Equalities Nick Boles in Edinburgh on Thursday, February 4. The devolved ministers also issued a joint letter to Mr Boles.
Ahead of the meeting, Ms Cunningham said: “The introduction of the Levy remains a matter of fundamental concern for us. It encroaches on our devolved responsibilities and is causing concern for employers. The UK Government has no control over how our administrations provide apprenticeships and to imply otherwise by collecting what amounts to an employment tax is misleading for any employer with operations outside England.
“We call upon the UK government to offer urgent clarity on the Levy at today’s meeting, and to consider the wider implications of its introduction.”
Julie James AM, Welsh Government Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology added: “We have been very clear from the outset that the Welsh Government has serious concerns about the Apprenticeship Levy and the impact it will have on the apprenticeship system here in Wales.
“The levy is an unwelcome new tax burden for Welsh employers, and means Welsh public services will have to pay money back to the Exchequer when they are already under pressure.
“I welcome the opportunity to discuss our shared concerns with the UK’s other Skills Ministers. As our administrations develop their own distinct skills policies continued discussion is essential in order to address UK-wide issues that impact upon learners, employers and communities.”
NI Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry also said: “Along with my Ministerial colleagues from Scotland and Wales I am concerned that the imposition of the Apprenticeship Levy could have unintended consequences for the Devolved Administrations. This Levy will be a further tax burden on large businesses and this could impact negatively on the UK’s and Northern Ireland’s ability to compete globally and to attract new business.
“The Northern Ireland System of Apprenticeships is very much based on a quality model which forms a key element of the wider programme of implementation in line with employer expectations. There is no intention to change the model that exists in Northern Ireland.”
Sculpture students to exhibit in New Mexico
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.
Westminster wants to ‘value’ degrees
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.
Extra funding for further education colleges
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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