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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

Economic value of red meat sector rises

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HE VALUE of the iconic beef, lamb and pork sectors to the Welsh economy rose in 2020, as consumers turned to local, sustainable, quality food during the COVID pandemic, according to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).New figures from the Welsh Government ‘Aggregate Agricultural Output and Income’ report show that the total value of agricultural output in Wales for 2020 is projected to stand at £1.7billion – a 6.2% (or £99 million) increase on the provisional figure for 2019.


Cattle and sheep account for 44% of this total at £750million; the highest proportion recorded since 2016. The agricultural output value for Wales’s pig sector also increased (by 34.3% or £2 million) to a value of £8 million.
The figures reflect the strength of the livestock sector in Wales and sit in contrast to Total Income From Farming (TIFF) figures for the UK as a whole newly released by Defra. Although the TIFF figures are a different form of measuring farm production, the UK data concurs that the livestock sector has had a strong year, but in other parts of Britain, this was more than offset by poor harvests in the arable sector.


Demand for beef and lamb have been strong in the domestic retail market since the immediate aftermath of the first COVID lockdown in spring 2020. After initial market volatility, marketing campaigns by HCC and other bodies encouraged consumers to recreate restaurant meals at home.


Over the past 12 months, domestic retail sales of lamb and beef have trended consistently higher, with spending on lamb 20% higher than the previous year. Sales at independent high street butchers are also strong.
Research shows many demographic groups, including families with children, buying more beef and lamb than previously, and turning to quality home-grown produce.


HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said, “The strong demand for red meat from the domestic consumer has helped drive market prices for beef and lamb at Welsh livestock markets in the second half of 2020 and into the early months of 2021.


“It’s no surprise, therefore, to see that the overall value of the industry is projected to have grown. We have seen inflation in the costs on farmers, which offset some of the gains from improved market price; however, it’s heartening to see consumers’ support for quality Welsh produce.“Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef remain key drivers of our rural economy, and given their excellent brand reputation, they act as flagship products for the growing Welsh food and drink sector.”Further analysis of the aggregate output and income figures for Welsh farms are available in HCC’s latest monthly market bulletin.

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Farming

Ian Rickman: 2021 is a critical year for Wales’ farming future

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THE INCREASINGLY negative narrative around livestock farming and its portrayed impact on the environment and climate change has led to farmers in Wales standing up to tell their stories and highlight the positive impact livestock farming has.


Through the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ campaign ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’, farmers are addressing misleading claims by various groups about the role livestock farming plays in relation to climate change and the environment.  Launching the campaign, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman said: “The FUW has consistently recognised the threat represented by climate change and the need to take action. This is clear from a cursory look at our manifestos and policy documents published over the past twenty years.

“We know that farming is already responsible for a critical carbon resource in soils, woodland and semi-natural habitats and I’m pleased to launch the FUW’s environment campaign – ‘Guardians of the Welsh Land’ from my home farm here in Carmarthenshire today. As farmers are the most trusted link in the supply chain, they are best placed to communicate their stories, helping to address consumer concerns and influencing political agendas. Members can also look forward to a variety of webinars over the coming months, which will focus on the different challenges ahead for the industry and how to overcome them.


“There is no question in our mind that we need to counteract the continuation by the anti-farming lobby of their campaign to vilify and belittle domestic food producers.  These attacks are corrosive and grossly misleading, negatively influencing consumer perception of the industry and influencing political agendas on a global scale.”


Mr Rickman added that 2021 is an important year for these types of conversations.


“Knocking on our door are the United Nations Food Systems Summit and COP26. The FUW has been engaging with these conversations at an international level and shares some concerns with other industries across the globe about the wider narrative and ambitions set out in inconspicuous looking documents. Plans, we and the general public don’t support.  Telling the positive story of the guardians of our Welsh land is now more important than ever,” he said.


Starting in the first week of June, the campaign introduces four farmers all of whom tell the story of how they are addressing environmental and climate change needs in their unique ways: Carmarthenshire organic sheep farmer Phil Jones, the Roberts family from Meirionnydd, Ceredigion dairy farmers Lyn and Lowri Thomas and FUW President Glyn Roberts who farms with his daughter Beca at Dylasau Uchaf in Snowdonia.


“The campaign will further highlight that Welsh farmers are rising to the challenge of improving soil health and increasing organic matter in soils, improvements which represent further opportunities for sequestering more carbon. These improvements, the campaign will highlight, are achieved through specific livestock grazing patterns and rest periods. The campaign is also clear that the correct options, guidance and rewards are required to encourage more farmers to adopt such systems,” said Mr Rickman.


Soil, the campaign will stress, is a long term investment and at present, around 410 million tonnes of carbon is stored in Welsh soils and 75,700 hectares of Wales’ woodland (25%) is on farmland, representing an important and growing carbon sink.


“As acknowledged in Natural Resources Wales’ State of Natural Resources Report, using land for food production is an essential part of natural resource use and management.  Whilst we acknowledge that  agricultural intensification has undeniably had negative impacts on some species and ecosystems, there is overwhelming evidence that other factors, including reductions in agricultural activity and afforestation, have also had severe negative impacts,” he added.

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Farming

Excellent Easter for lamb sales

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Lamb proved a popular choice for consumers over Easter with retail sales soaring above the last two years. This demand has been reflected at livestock markets where farmgate prices are still standing strong.

At a time when lamb is always a firm favourite, this year people of all ages were both buying and spending more as a result of a renewed interest in sourcing quality, local produce and cooking at home.

In the 12 weeks to 18 April 2021, the total volume purchased was up 14.8% on the year, and 6.0% higher than in 2019. Consumer spend on lamb reached £190.0 million, which was 18.7% more than in 2020 and 14.6% higher than the same period in 2019.  

Lamb leg roasting joints were the most sought-after cuts despite the fact that Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings remained, followed by chops and mince.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Data Analyst, Glesni Phillips said: “Lamb performed exceptionally well over the Easter period this year. It saw a 10.2% increase in the number of buyers engaging with the product and a rise of 3.3% in the frequency of which lamb was bought.

“The average price of lamb was also higher, but this obviously did not deter new buyers. The figures show that there are new buyers in all age categories, but this is especially true for shoppers aged under 45 years and those with children.

“The pandemic has led to more consumers cooking at home, giving many the opportunity to realise and enjoy the exceptional qualities and versatility of Welsh Lamb, and at the same time, support the local economy.”

Butchers also benefitted from the popularity of lamb in the run-up to Easter with total spend increasing by 16.1% on the year. The volume sold also increased, by 12.6%.

Glesni Phillips added: “As we approach the end of Spring, the consumer demand for lamb is continuing. This can be seen in the liveweight lamb prices which remain strong when compared to historical averages, with the average SQQ in Wales standing at 329.7p/kg in Wales for the week ending 15 May 2021.

“New season lambs are now entering the market – they accounted for over 70% of lambs at auction in Wales during the latest week – but the supply is still relatively tight. HCC is looking forward to working with retailers over the coming months on new activity, which will include in-store marketing, press and targeted digital communication to maintain this growth in sales. Butchers, who demonstrated their key role in the community during the pandemic, will also be offered training on a number of key skills to boost their sales even further.”

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