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.”
Minister visits to celebrate new curriculum and partnership work at Ysgol Glan-y-Môr
YSGOL Glan-y-Môr school was visited last week by the Minister for Education Kirsty Williams. Mrs Williams was visiting the school to celebrate the school’s work in STEM subjects, and their strong working partnerships with local primary schools.
During the visit Mrs Williams met staff and pupils from the school and its four feeder primaries, Pembrey Pwll, Ysgol y Castell and Burry Port, and saw some of the projects that the schools have worked together upon as they look to develop the new Curriculum for Wales.
During the visit Mrs Williams was also able to unveil a plaque to celebrate the schools work with the Wolfson foundation that has enabled the school to revolutionise the technology available to young people in the school to aid their learning. The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity that supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities. Since it was established in 1955, over £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) has been awarded to more than 11,000 projects throughout the UK, all on the basis of expert review.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “It was a pleasure to visit Ysgol Glan-y-Môr today to meet the staff and pupils and hear about their fantastic approaches to learning’”
“I am very grateful and impressed by the quality of engagement the school has had in the process of developing the new curriculum; they have gone above and beyond its duty, and have excelled especially within the fields of Science and Technology.
“I can’t overstate the importance of developing STEM skills and knowledge, especially for our young women. These skills can offer rewarding careers and exciting opportunities that can bring learning alive, preparing them for the world of work.”
Mrs Sharon Cole, Chair of Governors said: “The Governing Body are delighted with the fantastic achievements of Glan-y-Môr schools students, teachers and Senior leadership team. It is with great pride that we witness our school grow from strength to strength and truly reap the rewards of our motto of “success through effort”. As we move into a new era, with a new curriculum for Wales that will allow our children to thrive in the future, together with the Wolfson Foundation Investment and an already strong STEM ethos, we are excited to witness great potential unfold at Glan-y-Môr.”
Mr Paul Jones, Headmaster of the federation said: “Following an excellent inspection – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) had been identified by ESTYN as an outstanding feature of the school, and had been developed into a best practice guide. Developing ambitious and very capable learners with these sort of transferable skills is hugely important to us a school as we prepare all our learners for further education, training or employment.”
Mr John Jones, Head of School said: “Once again it is great to be able to celebrate exciting times at Glan-y-Môr. We are always looking for the next step in our journey, and even though recently classified as a “green” school for the third successive year we are keen to move ever forward. When inspected in 2017 we were praised for the way that we were developing the skills in our students, but it was commented that we lacked the facilities to enable them to develop and show these skills. Our work with the Wolfson foundation has enabled us to redevelop the facilities around STEM in our school, and our students now have the facilities to match their potential as the school continues to grow.”
Llanelli: Leavers’ Prom for Pen Rhos Pupils
PUPILS in Year 6 at Llanelli’s Ysgol Pen Rhos were able to bring their time in primary education to a wonderful close with a leavers’ ‘Prom’ party (June 13). This was the second year group of pupils to leave the newly-established school in Seaside, which opened in April 2018.
The event was organised by parents of the school who wanted to give the pupils a send-off to remember as they embark on the next chapter in their journey.
School teacher Mr N Davies said: “It was a lovely opportunity for pupils to come together to celebrate the end of their time in Ysgol Pen Rhos. They have worked extremely hard throughout the year and deserve to enjoy every moment before their transition to secondary school.
“We would like to extend a big thank you to parents, teachers, the entertainers at ‘Starlight Celebrations’ and of course the parents who arranged the event and made it a success.
“The school wishes the best of luck to all pupils in their future endeavours.”
Llanelli: Ysgol Pen Rhos thanked for charity boost
A RECENT charity event held at Llanelli’s Ysgol Pen Rhos was a great success after it raised hundreds of pounds towards a worthy cause when staff and pupils turned up for school wearing their own clothes instead of normal schoolwear. Each participant donated £1 to a cause which has a personal connection to one member of the school’s staff.
Deborah Jayne Griffiths has been an LSA at the school for 27 years and is raising funds to provide community defibrillators.
On Saturday (Jun 15), she took part in a skydive at Swansea Airport to raise money for a cause which means a lot to her.
June 15 was the fourth anniversary of the passing of her son, Cameron Jervis, who would now be twenty-two years old. Cameron passed away in his sleep four years ago.
Deborah said: “The school, they said that they’d come up with a money-raising scheme to help towards the purchase of the defibrillators.
“My sister Lindsay Kennedy who also works as an LSA designed t-shirts #jumpforcam for the tandem skydive, which I’ll be wearing as I jump. My older sister Sharon Evans, who works in Heol Goffa also as an LSA, plus her friend Sian will also be jumping.
“I’m petrified of heights so this will be a big deal for me. Cameron had wanted to do a skydive when he was eighteen, sadly he never had the chance, so this is for my boy. He was eighteen when he passed away in his sleep. All the money raised will go into Cameron’s Memorial Account, we then distribute to local communities. We have already had one defibrillator put up in Dafen Park. That has already been used a few times to help saves lives within our community.
“Ideally I want to raise money to be able to provide as many as I can. All the staff have had the defibrillator training here at Ysgol Pen Rhos which is obviously a worthy skill to learn.
I want to thank everyone for their support, this includes family, friends, staff and of course the pupils.”
There is a JUSTGIVING page on Facebook if anyone is happy to donate to this fantastic cause.
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