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Sunday, 05 December 2010

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The plan to provide financial support for Welsh domiciled students is welcome, because it's good for students. However, you propose to pay for it by cutting teaching funds to Welsh universities. Since a large number of Welsh students study in England, this means that an enormous chunk of Welsh Assembly funds will used to subsidise *English* universities. Your plan is therefore bad for the Welsh Higher Education sector.

Why not instead have the best of both worlds? Keep the fee subsidy but only for Welsh students studying in Welsh universities? Then we'll all be winners, and Welsh Assembly money will actually be spent in Wales, rather than in England.

We had a One Wales commitment to mitigate the cost of higher fees for Welsh students studying in England. To simply do that would have entailed a straightforward transfer of funds to HE institutions in England, as I said in a statement on 12 October. That would have required cutting the HE budget without the benefit of additional fees charged to students from outside Wales. As I say above 'I am not prepared, and nor are my Cabinet colleagues, to see a one-way transfer from the Welsh Assembly Government budget into the English higher education system, which is what would happen if we did not raise fees in Wales but supported Welsh students who wanted to study in England to do so'.

So we are raising fees in Wales but covering the cost for Welsh domiciled students wherever they study. Our HE institutions will receive additional fee income from students from outside Wales, and will receive our payments in lieu of the fees for Welsh domiciled students, as well as teaching grant and research income. Our cuts in teaching grant are nothing like those in England - and our HE institutions will be receiving the same in real terms in 2016-17 as in 2012-13.

Thank you. Your comment clarifies a number of things, but there are sill some question marks.

First, the calculation you present in your final sentence assumes that the same number of Welsh students will go to England and the same number of English students will come to Wales. This is unlikely to be the case because: (a) student numbers in Wales will be capped, while those in England will not be; and (b) the £1890 grant to subsidise Welsh students studying in Wales is disappearing after this year anyway. I predict a large increase in Welsh students going to England, and a reduction in English students coming to Wales because English universities will be under great pressure to recruit more students than before.

There is also a question about how the 35% cuts in teaching are to be implemented and how this influences student choice. Your statement makes it clear that, e.g., Arts and Humanities will be protected much more than in England but if this is done at the expense of STEM disciplines there could be an exodus of science students to English universities. A 35% cut means a bigger loss of cash per student in Physics, say, than it does in Languages.

The One Wales statement to which you refer states "whatever is possible to mitigate the effects on Welsh-domiciled students if the Westminster government lifts the cap on fees". I don't read "mitigate" as meaning "completely cover" and in any case the new arrangements would not come into power until after the next Welsh Assembly elections in May 2011.

I think the arrangements you announced have a great many positive features - especially for studies - but a simple change could make them equally good for Welsh Higher Education Insitutions also, i.e. if Welsh money were restricted to Welsh universities. That seems to me to be the best of all worlds.

After all, you wouldn't want the WAG to pay for Welsh students to study in, say, the USA....

Not sure why you think that student numbers won't be capped in England. Browne said they wouldn't, but there have been several things in Browne that have not been taken up by the UK Government. Still waiting for full clarity on this from DBIS. In any case, a pool of 200,000 young people not getting HE places this year means it is unlikely that the flow of students cross-border will dry up. No reason to assume a radical re-distribution of students from Wales to England. Welsh universities have been highly successful at attracting students and there is no reason this should stop. The 35% cut in teaching grant - incidentally that is the 2016-17 percentage, it is lower before that - is a global figure and HEFCW will have to work out how best to ensure that STEM subjects are protected.

You can interpret One Wales in that way if you want, but the One Wales government is responding to it in the way I announced.

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