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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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Education

Canned Food UK & Tata Steel launch package design challenge

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Canned Food UK (CFUK) and Tata Steel in Europe launch the Packaging Design Challenge this week on April 24 2020.   

The challenge encourages children aged 15 and under to design and create their own pack which demonstrates packaging’s important role in protecting our food and drink.   

To take part entrants first create their ‘product’, a sponge in a freezer bag with 200ml of water and secondly, a pack for their product using materials otherwise destined for the recycling bin which have been cleaned such as cereal boxes, milk cartons or loo roll holders.  

Entrants are invited to send photos or a video to CFUK by tagging Instagram posts with @cannedfooduk or #packagingdesignchallenge or emailing competitions@cannedfood.co.uk.  

Entries should show how their packs are decorated, which parts are recyclable and if their pack survives the drop test – dropping their pack from head height to see if the product leaks.   

A winner will be selected by a panel of experts for a chance to win £100 in Amazon vouchers and the closing date is midnight on Monday 22 May 2020.  

The challenge launches with a live session on Canned Food UK’s Facebook page at 11am on Friday 24 April with Nicola Jones, Tata Steel’s Packaging Recycling Education manager, who normally visits schools nationwide delivering interactive workshops that showcase the benefits of packaging. 

“Lots of families would have been returning from the Easter break this week and I would have been in classrooms talking about how steel is made and why we use packaging. I wanted to continue to share these resources and the Packaging Design Challenge was the perfect opportunity,” comments Nicola.  

“It’s a straightforward activity that children can do with minimal adult supervision, that’s away from a computer screen, and at the same time, learn about how packaging protects our food and drink, reduces waste and how it’s recycled.” 

“I think the challenge will showcase the effectiveness of packaging, just like the can which has great shelf appeal, durability and of course, is infinitely recyclable,” adds Robert Fell, director at CFUK and competition judge. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s entries, especially if they survive the drop test.” 

For further information on the challenge visit cannedfood.co.uk/packagingdesignchallenge or see entries as they come in on the CFUK’s FacebookTwitter and Instagram channels.  

-ends- 

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Community

Strictly Cymru brings dancing a-plenty to 2020

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Disabled people from all over Wales have waltzed into 2020 for Strictly Cymru – the country’s renowned inclusive dance competition.

Run by charity Leonard Cheshire, in partnership with the national governing body Paradance UK, the competition has seen dancers in both inclusive and wheelchair-specific categories compete in six heats across South Wales, in preparation for the grand final on 6 June. Strictly Cymru is now in its third year.

Winning in the inclusive categories at the Carmarthen heat on 17 January were Coleg Sir Gar students Kieron, Toby, Thomas, and Max, as well as Richard, who came independently from Coleshill Day Centre in Llanelli and wowed the judges with his Michael Jackson inspired fast feet and moonwalk. A few days later, Rebecca, Chloe, and Anesha from Heronsbridge School lifted the trophy at the Bridgend heat on 21 January.

Gower College students Daniel and Carys wowed the judges with their synchronised dancing at the Cardiff heat, while Coleg Gwent student Matthew secured a place on the final in the inclusive heat held in Newport last week.

Meanwhile, in the wheelchair dance category, dancers Chad and Ben took gold in Carmarthen and Bridgend respectively. The Carmarthen heat rang with the sound of Chad’s catchphrase of “Absolutely fantastic!”

Then, the fifth heat in Cardiff saw the youngest person to take part in Strictly to date, five-year-old Inga, win in the wheelchair category, before Robin John won the final wheelchair heat in Newport after being inspired by his partner Dianne, who was highly commended in last year’s competition grand final.

Dance instructors from Paradance UK also took the participants, who came from schools the community and Leonard Cheshire services in the area, through their paces ahead of each dance-off to give everyone the best chance at reaching the final.

Chad said: “It has been a really great two days and I’ve enjoyed getting to know new people and learn tango. I’m looking forward to the final.”

Robin John, winning at Newport, said: “It’s absolutely wonderful, I’ve tried before and lost, but it feels on a whole different planet to win a heat! I’m looking forward to the final and don’t mind which genre of dance I get, I can adapt to most things.”

Ruth Jones, MP for Newport West, was a judge at the heat there. Ruth said: “I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand, but it was amazing. As you walked into the room the enthusiasm hit you like a wave. It was so hard to choose a winner because they were all brilliant in their own way, everybody did the maximum they could possibly do.”

Alan Dear, Head of Theatre and Arts at Newport Live, helped support the Newport heat and said: “It is the most joyful thing I have done in years.”

The heats were open to people of all ages and abilities and the overall winners of the competition will be crowned in the Ffwrnes theatre in Llanelli on 6 June 2020.  There they will receive the coveted Strictly glitter ball trophy.

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Education

Lee Waters in School Council Summit

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LOCAL Member of the Senedd, Lee Waters has held the third Llanelli School Council Summit in the Welsh Parliament for secondary school pupils from across the constituency.

Over 70 pupils from schools right across the area visited the Senedd to learn how the Welsh Parliament works and take part in debates in the old Assembly debating chamber.

Pupils chose to debate lowering the voting age and banning diesel cars. They also had the opportunity to question the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething about their concerns and on his experiences as a Minister in the Welsh Government.

Lee Waters MS said

“Every year since becoming elected I’ve invited the school councils from the secondary schools across Llanelli to the Senedd for a School Council Summit. I’m really pleased that the event has grown and grown.”

“The pupils enthusiasm and grasp of the issues was really impressive, and it was great to hear their thoughts on some really important issues.”

“I was delighted to give pupils a chance to discuss their ideas with the Health Minister Vaughan Gething, debate issues that are important to them, and get practical careers advice learn from past pupils at their schools who now work in Welsh public life.”

“I want to show that pupils from Llanelli can succeed at whatever they choose in life, and get them involved in Welsh democracy.”

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