A £24M EU-backed investment in a world-leading energy research scheme at Welsh universities has been announced by Welsh Government Finance Minister and Government Business Minister, Jane Hutt.
The FLEXIS five-year research programme, supported by £15m of EU funds and led by Cardiff University, will investigate how flexible energy systems can meet modern-day energy challenges.
Involving collaborations with industry and research organisations in Wales, Europe and worldwide, the scheme will investigate how multiple energy sources can be supplied to consumers through more flexible and efficient systems that integrate traditional and renewable energy sources.
As part of the scheme, demonstration sites will be established to act as a test bed for new ideas and to show how new and cost-effective technology and energy solutions are being developed – including a project promoting the use of ground energy from mine water.
Leading researchers from the UK and Europe will also be recruited to Welsh universities, helping to strengthen Wales’ position as a leader in research and innovation within the energy industry.
The scheme will pave the way for the development of new technologies and job creation in the energy sector, and attract new companies to locate in Wales.
Finance and Government Business Minister, Jane Hutt, said: “Wales is set to benefit from around £1.8billion of EU Structural Funds by 2020 to support business, innovation, infrastructure, skills, employment, and young people.
“This is vital investment for our economy and labour market, and is a crucial source of funding in driving innovative research and the commercialisation of that research, creating sustainable jobs and growth.
“It’s fantastic news that this £15m EU funds investment will support such ground-breaking potential in this important energy sector for Wales.”
Professor Colin Riordan, Vice- Chancellor of Cardiff University, said: “FLEXIS promises to tackle some of the major societal challenges that we are facing today, from climate change to fuel poverty and rising energy prices.
“FLEXIS will establish Wales as a pioneer in energy systems and deliver significant benefits to the nation as a whole, attracting new businesses, creating jobs and training the research engineers of the future.”
University staff to strike
SIXTY UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday, November 25 to Wednesday, December 4, the UCU has announced.
Three of Wales’ universities, Bangor, Cardiff and UWTSD, will be affected by the dispute.
Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.
The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.
As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.
‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about re-balloting.’
Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.
Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.
The University and Colleges Employers’ Association dismissed the strike ballot results.
It claims, in all seriousness, the low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members is a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution.
Extending that logic to a general election or other poll would create some rather interesting results and would, for example, overturn the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.
UCU has just 55 results from their 147 separate ballots supporting a national dispute over the outcome of the 2019-20 JNCHES pay round. While UCU members in these 55 institutions could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be causing damage to both union members and to students in an unrealistic attempt to force all 147 employers to reopen the concluded 2019-20 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable.
Youth Parliament wants life skills education
IN ITS first major piece of work from the body representing the views of young people in Wales, the Welsh Youth Parliament found huge inconsistencies in how life skills are currently taught, with almost half of those surveyed saying they received lessons once a year or even less.
In their second full session at the Senedd, members of the Welsh Youth Parliament today heard the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams’ response to their report on Life Skills in the Curriculum.
The Welsh Youth Parliament published its report earlier this week in its first major piece of work, having consulted with over 2,500 young people, parents and teachers across Wales. It found huge inconsistencies in how life skills are currently taught with members voicing concerns about leaving school as ‘A* robots with no knowledge of the real world’.
The report said: ‘We currently leave school with a handful of skills but no knowledge on how to speak in public, clean, maintain healthy relationships, buy cars, apply for mortgages, road safety, and many other skills that are needed to succeed in life.
‘We can’t survive adulthood or any part of our life if we leave school as A* robots with no knowledge of the real world. We’re going through this education system, our siblings and our kids will go through this system. We want them to feel equipped and able to function as productive adults, who don’t feel as though their worth is based on their exam results. We are worth more than this.
‘If life skills are correctly implemented into the curriculum, the next generation of students will leave school with not only the correct qualifications to succeed in life but also other abilities and knowledge to make life easier’.
The principal recommendations within the report were:
• A consistent, nationwide Life Skills Specification containing all core life skills mapped out across appropriate key stages and taking in to account all learning needs.
• The core life skills within the specification should be agreed upon by young people and education professionals – their focus shouldn’t be solely on teaching young people how to exist, but how to lead a full and healthy life.
• A life skills coordinator should be appointed within every school. The coordinator would be responsible for mapping the core life skills across the school’s curriculum, ensuring that each pupil’s experience is consistent and in line with the Life Skills Specification.
As she faced Welsh Youth Parliament members in the chamber, the Minister noted their report’s main recommendations including the call for the Welsh Government to be doing more to support teachers and to work with the Welsh Youth Parliament to create resources to support the teaching of life skills.
Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, said: “It is absolutely clear to me from your report that, as a government, we need to be doing more to support our teachers – we need to invest in their development to ensure they have the right tools to deliver life skills education effectively.
“Within government, we are currently in discussion over future budgets. I can assure you today that investment for professional learning for our workforce will be a priority of mine as I recognise the points that you make.”
The Minister also acknowledged members’ clear message in the report about leaving education uninformed about real-world skills. Kirsty Williams argued that educational reforms, including the new curriculum being developed by the Welsh Government, would help address some of those concerns.
Children’s Commissioner, Sally Holland, and the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, Lynne Neagle AM also addressed the Members and gave their response to the report.
During the session, members who form committees looking at Youth Parliament’s other priorities, Emotional and Mental Health in Young People and Littering and Plastic Waste, also gave updates on their work which will continue over the next few months.
Support staff outnumber teachers
NEW data published by the Education Workforce Council (EWC) has revealed that there are now more learning support staff than teachers registered to work in maintained schools in Wales.
Of the over 80,000 people eligible to work in schools, further education, work-based learning and youth work settings in Wales, over 37,325 are registered for school support roles compared to 35,545 for school teacher roles. This highlights the changing nature of Welsh classrooms and how our children are educated.
Statistics also show that the education workforce in Wales is mainly female, with over 80% of school staff and over 60% in other settings being women.
The age profile of the school and youth work workforce is balanced, with around three-quarters of staff under the age of 50. In contrast, further education and work-based learning workforce is older, with 45% of registered college lecturers aged 50 and over.
The ability of school teachers (33.3%) to speak Welsh exceeds census figures (19%). However, figures in further education colleges and work-based learning are below the census. This shows the challenges ahead if Wales is to meet its aspiration of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
EWC Chief Executive, Hayden Llewellyn said:
“This is the first time such extensive intelligence has been available about the whole of the education workforce in Wales. The data raises interesting questions for policymakers and workforce planning as we move towards a new curriculum, a greater focus on the Welsh language and other major reforms”.
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