Welsh higher education funding report

16 January 2009

Welsh higher education institutions will struggle to compete with English institutions if the funding gap continues to grow, warn MPs today in a report on cross-border provision of further and higher education.

The Welsh Affairs Committee predicts the development of a downward spiral if Welsh higher education continues to receive proportionately less core funding than English institutions and a smaller relative share of UK research funding, resulting in a negative impact on the Welsh economy. The Committee also calls for more effective communication between government departments and the Welsh Assembly Government over further and higher education policy.

In order for more higher education institutions to achieve research success and compete effectively, the Committee recommends that the UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills makes available a specific allocation of research funds to develop research capacity in economically deprived areas. However, it acknowledges that it will be harder to attract research funding if the core funding gap continues.

The Wales Office is urged to promote the Welsh further and higher education agenda in Westminster. The Committee also urges better communication between the UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Welsh Assembly Government to avoid policy confusion within UK government departments, and to achieve clarity for employers and students.

It is imperative that the UK Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills consults fully with the Welsh Assembly Government to identify both the territorial extent and the wider impact of education policies at an early stage, and better protocols and relationships must be established.

The Committee warns against Whitehall officials sidelining Wales and suggests a better understanding of devolution is required. Similarly, Welsh Assembly ministers and officials should take a greater interest in policy development across the border.

The Committee is also concerned that further education funding guidance provided by the Learning and Skills Council and the Welsh Assembly Government is unhelpful and inappropriate in relation to cross-border recruitment, and it urges authorities to encourage ease of access across borders and to ensure provision is driven by learner and employer choice.

The Chairman of the Committee, Hywel Francis MP, said:

"Whilst we heard evidence that some mechanisms for cross-border provision of further education are working, we are concerned that the border remains a perceived barrier and levels of cooperation between Whitehall and the Welsh Assembly Government must be improved to ensure clarity is provided for students and employers over choices available to them.

"Ministerial meetings need to be more transparent so that UK government departments can demonstrate that they are cooperating effectively.

"Many higher education institutions rely on research funding and it is worrying that in the recent Research Assessment Exercise Cardiff University has dropped out of the UK top ten, although Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea appear to have improved. We await a full analysis of the results before making any other observations.

"We are pleased to hear this week of the decision by the Welsh Assembly Government to launch a matched fundraising scheme to support Welsh universities, something we recommended for consideration in our report. This gives a clear indication of the priority the Welsh Assembly Government is giving to research in Welsh universities."

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