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Postgraduate funding consultation opens

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Welsh Government’s decision ‘long overdue’: Angela Burns AM

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT is consulting on plans to provide funding for Welsh Postgraduate students.

The move comes after the UK Government appeared to catch Welsh Ministers on the hop by announcing its own plans to fund postgraduate students via student loans in November’s budget statement.

The UK Government scheme will begin in September 2016, whereas the Welsh Government consultation aims to deliver some postgraduate funding beginning the academic year 2017/18.

The anomalous situation will exist in the next academic year, therefore, that Welsh students studying at postgraduate level in Welsh Universities (or elsewhere) will be self-financing, while English students studying in Wales will have access to student loan support.

The consultation proposes Welsh postgraduate students will have access to student loans to finance their studies.

A separate part of the same consultation, the Welsh Government is proposing to permit students who already have an undergraduate degree to receive financial support if they enrol on a further part-time undergraduate degree to study a so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and some computer science subjects.

The decision of the Welsh Government to only begin consultation now, effectively ensuring no decisions on future student finance provision are made before May’s Assembly elections and has drawn inevitable criticism.

Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Minister, said: “Only the Welsh Liberal Democrats have a clear plan to solve the Welsh university funding crisis in a way that’s fair to students. This is an urgent crisis that must be addressed as Labour’s current system is unsustainable.

“The Welsh Liberal Democrats would introduce a Living Costs Grant as we recognise that it is living costs, not fees, which are the biggest barrier to people going to university.

“It is absolutely right that students from Wales currently have the freedom to study at the university they choose, whether that is in Wales or another part of the UK. To ensure this is still possible, Wales needs to adopt an inclusive and flexible stance to higher education funding and finance.

“Welsh Liberal Democrats are being honest and open with the students of Wales about how we can help them through university. It’s just a shame that the Labour party won’t tell people what their plans are for higher education funding before the elections in 2016.”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Education Minister, Mid and West AM Simon Thomas told The Herald: “The Labour Government in Cardiff Bay seems to be reacting to policy changes over the border with these proposals, rather than making its own long-term plans.

“The Party of Wales agrees that postgraduate students need more support and this is supported by the interim findings of the Diamond review. Employers are increasingly calling for graduates with postgraduate qualifications and these higher-level skills can increase social mobility and benefit the economy.”

Outlining what Plaid Cymru plans, Mr Thomas told us: “A Plaid Cymru Welsh Government will support postgraduate study through a new postgraduate fund for loans to Welsh domiciled students. These loans will be income contingent long-term loans at preferential interest rates.”

Criticising the Welsh Government directly, Simon Thomas continued: “Part of the reason there is so little support in place for postgraduates is the Welsh Government’s insistence on sticking to its unsustainable and unaffordable Tuition Fee Grant policy.

“Cuts have been made both to the higher and further education budgets to pay for this expensive policy, including cuts to the Higher Education Funding Council. As a result, HEFCW has cut the support available to postgraduate students.

“While the proposals put forward in this consultation seek to address one gap in student support, it does not address the long-term damage caused to our universities and colleges through under-funding.”

The Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire candidate concluded: “The proposals to provide graduates with support to study for a second undergraduate degree in STEM subjects helps a particular group of students to re-train and to change their career pathways. However, cuts have been made to part-time courses both in FE and HE: such courses provide adults who work or have caring responsibilities, disproportionately women and older students, with vital opportunities to up-skill and re-train.”

Speaking to The Herald: Welsh Conservative education spokesperson Angela Burns said: “I welcome Welsh Government’s long-overdue decision to finally follow UK Government’s lead and replicate a postgraduate loan policy here in Wales.

“As the Welsh economy and that of the rest of world grows in competitiveness, so too must the level of skills held by our future graduates and those already in the workforce. In many cases, this means taking on postgraduate study or part-time study. Access to postgraduate support can also help drive social mobility, something that UK Government already recognises and that which a Welsh Conservative government would implement here in Wales.”

Addressing the delay in the Welsh Government moving forward with proposals for postgraduate funding, Mrs Burns told us: “We regret that Welsh Government have been slow to address the issue of financial assistance for postgraduate students ordinarily domiciled in Wales.

“Although Wales sees more people per 1,000 of its population pursue postgraduate study than the UK average, many are still missing out on the opportunity to up-skill because of cost. This has a negative impact on both social mobility and the need to foster- and develop a highskilled workforce to boost the Welsh economy. This pertains to part-time study too, given that a number within the workforce want to develop skills but cannot afford to leave their current jobs to do so.”

The Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM sounded a cautionary note about words being converted into action: “We are pleased that Welsh Government are finally following UK Government’s lead and seeking to address the issue here in Wales. But if Welsh Government’s track record on acting upon consultation follows the same trend, we must not hold our breath and expect action any time soon.”

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Health

Werndale Hospital recognised for outstanding patient care in national award

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STAFF at Werndale Hospital near Carmarthen have been recognised for the quality of their patient care. 

The prestigious ‘Private Hospital Group of the Year’ award is presented to an organisation that has shown excellence in its delivery of care, commitment to the community and innovation within healthcare.

Werndale Hospital was also recognised for their initiatives to support staff in their career progression and wellbeing.   

The latest statistics show, 98% of patients at Werndale Hospital were satisfied with their overall level of care, 98% of patients would recommend their care to family and friends, and 98% of patients rated the nursing staff as excellent or very good. 

In addition, independent analysis of Circle hospitals’ hip and knee procedure outcomes of health improvement shows that Circle scored 8.4 versus an independent sector average of 7.8 in the hip category, and a score of 15.4 versus an independent sector average of 13.9 in the knee category.   

The award presented to Circle Health Group, owners of Werndale Hospital, in London in June, also noted the extraordinary contribution the teams at the hospital had made to the community. 

In 2021 alone, Werndale Hospital partnered with Air Ambulance Wales and raised £1,205 to support the charity’s work in the community.  

In addition to the charitable work, Werndale Hospital was recognised for it’s commitment to support staff through a series of wellbeing initiatives and career development opportunities. The judges were particularly impressed with the launch of the ‘Be Heard’ survey at the hospital.   

The survey looks to empower staff to feedback on everything from the working environment at the hospital through to their own career ambitions. Building directly on the feedback from this survey, the ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign was launched which supported staff to work towards specific qualifications from nursing degrees with partnered universities through to bespoke management programmes and MBA qualifications.   

As a direct result of this support for staff at what is a challenging time for healthcare workers, Werndale Hospital and Circle Heath Group were recognised as being a Top 20 Best Large Company to work for.   

At the heart of Werndale Hospital’s approach to treating patients is a commitment to the community they serve.  

 Paolo Pieri, CEO of Circle Health Group, said:  “The award is a testament to what an amazing year 2021 was for Werndale Hospital with considerable investment into the facilities and services on offer to patients in west Wales. I couldn’t be prouder of what our staff and doctors have achieved.”  

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Aberglasney Gardens delighted to win 2022 Trip advisor Travellers’ Choice Award

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ABERGLASNEY Gardens is thrilled to have been recognised by Tripadvisor as a 2022 Travellers’ Choice Award winner for being in the top 10% of attractions worldwide.

The Award recognises businesses that consistently deliver great service with the Gardens being rated ‘Excellent’ by 342 visitors.

The award celebrates businesses that have received great traveller reviews from around the globe on Tripadvisor over the last 12 months. As challenging as the past year has been, Aberglasney stood out by consistently delivering positive experiences to visitors.

Aberglasney’s Director of Operations Jim Stribling said: “We are delighted to have once again won an award from Tripadvisor. It is fantastic recognition for the team’s hard work and dedication. To rank among the top ten percent of those listed on Trip Advisor as one of the best places to visit is outstanding.

“We are grateful to all those who take the time to leave us a review after visiting. It is no cliché when I say all the team, be it in the gift shop, the gardeners, the tearooms and the administrative team, all take the reviews on board to help make a visit to Aberglasney the best possible experience for everyone.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travellers, from planning, to booking, to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly eight million businesses, travellers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodation, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby.

As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travellers’ Choice Awards recognise the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests.

“Ranking among the Travellers’ Choice winners is always tough – but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travellers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

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Education

Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years

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Carmarthenshire County Council

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s vision to increase bilingual education in Carmarthenshire will be a gradual journey over 10 years.

The Cabinet met yesterday (Monday, July 4) to discuss the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and emphasised that it was important to give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their Welsh language skills.

However, members stressed that families will still have a choice on the language in which their children will be taught over the next decade and after 2032.

The plan sets out how the council will develop Welsh language provision in schools based on the outcomes and targets set by the Welsh Government.

All councils across Wales have to submit 10-year Welsh language education plans to the Welsh Government in order to meet its target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

The outcomes include more nursery and reception children being taught through the medium of Welsh; more young people studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject, and subjects through the medium of Welsh; increasing provision for learners with Additional Learning Needs; and increasing the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and through the medium of Welsh – with continuing support to develop staff through a comprehensive and flexible training programme.

The Cabinet said it was important for the council to provide more opportunities to be bilingual and referred to the various benefits it brings – from educational attainment to employability and health.

Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language, Cllr Glynog Davies said the aim was to meet and exceed the target set by Welsh Government on the percentage of Carmarthenshire pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 3032 (10-14%).

It included changing the language provision at 10 schools over the next 10 years creating an opportunity for a further 300 learners to be educated in Welsh.

He said: “We want to build on the progress made in early years education provision, and my ambition is clear – equal opportunities across the county.

“It is worth noting that we have the largest percentage 57.5 percent of nursery age children taught through the medium of Welsh. Immersion education is key to the strategy, and it is important that we continue to see an increase in the percentage of children transferring from the Meithrin groups to Welsh-medium education in the Foundation Phase.

“These early years are so important, the children are like sponges, absorbing information and absorbing a new language.

“We must then continue to see an increase in numbers in our reception classes, we say this even though we are the authority with the largest percentage (62.5 percent) of children receiving their education through the medium of Welsh.

“Children must continue to improve their Welsh when going from one school phase to another, and we need to make sure all children have the opportunity to pursue their secondary education through the medium of Welsh.

“At the same time, we need to give children and young people the confidence to use Welsh, in school and in the community. That’s what we want to see isn’t it, more and more using Welsh, hearing Welsh on the street. We need to develop and build on skills and confidence.”

Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy, Cllr Ann Davies said: “I am extremely pleased to see this document and have a pleasure in supporting it. Working with young children, that is children under three-years-old, I can say that children pick up language very quickly, they absorb it, and the process is very different to learning a language. As they get older the process in the brain is completely different. I am pleased to see that there is an emphasis on early years, that is when we need to start.”

Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Alun Lenny said: “It is very important to state that there are many advantages to learning a language, obviously for careers, especially in health and social care where patients and clients must have a choice of language, it’s important particularly for older people, and young children, and people with dementia.

“The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police has stated he is keen for all his staff to speak a certain level of Welsh, so we have a duty here to support that.

“The advantages of being bilingual are multiple, socially and in the world of work, and this strategy is very much welcomed.”

The WESP has come back to the cabinet for discussion following feedback from the Welsh Government, mainly to include some additional data and detail. It will now be submitted to the Welsh Government for final approval. A public consultation was held last year.

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