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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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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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Farming

Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’

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WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.

The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.

They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.

The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.

One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”

Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”

HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.

“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”

In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.

HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”

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