Memorandum submitted by Aberystwyth University
Aberystwyth University is grateful for the opportunity
to submit evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee's inquiry
into the provision of cross border services for Wales.
1. Aberystwyth University has about 10,000
students, of whom about 7,500 are full time, and about 2,000 staff.
Its turnover is around £100 million per annum. The University
is one of the largest employers in mid-Wales, and is a major driver
of both economic development and of cultural and social change
in its region.
2. Recently the Institute of Grassland and
Environmental Research (IGER), a Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) sponsored research institute,
has merged into the University, creating one of the largest centres
for research in the Biosciences and the Environment in the UK.
It will have a wide range of expertise in sustainable land use,
mitigation of climate change, and food and water security.
3. Universities in Wales operate with several
distinct but complementary foci : local, regional, Wales-wide,
UK-wide and international. The university's mix of students is
that about 30% of full-time students are from Wales, 60% from
other parts of the UK and EU and 10% from elsewhere. Hence we
are especially dependent on transborder flow, and it is essential
that we are able to compete effectively on a UK-wide basis for
students. This is also the case for academic staff. We are also,
of course, dependent on research funding distributed on a UK-wide
basis (through GO-Science, the Technology Strategy Board and,
in particular, the Research Councils) and our competitor set in
Research and Enterprise extends well beyond the UK.
4. The sector as a whole is experiencing
very rapid change, in part been driven by the increasing internationalisation
of education. It has always been the case that disciplinary communities
are international, and typically academics have a network of international
collaborations. However, there is a rapidly increasing transnational
flow of studentsfor example, the number of students studying
in other countries doubled in the last quarter of the 20th century,
and the trend has accelerated since. Numbers studying abroad have
increased by 50% since 1999, and it is estimated that there are
2.8 million internationally mobile students. There are well over
300,000 students in higher education institutions in the UK from
outside the UK; 14% of undergraduates and as many as 43% of research
postgraduates are from overseas.
5. The UK is attractive to overseas students
because of the quality of provision: consequently it is essential
that quality and standards are maintained across the sectorHE
UK is as strong as its weakest link in terms of quality assurance.
Several countries are developing as competitors to the UK and
US in particular (both have lost market share over recent yearsthough
of an increasing transnational market). For example, China is
becoming a serious international competitor, and Malaysia is becoming
a hub for transnational education in the region. This incidentally
gives Aberystwyth a particular opportunitywe have a long
relationship with Malaysia and Aberystwyth is held in very high
esteem. In 2000 the UK was third in the OECD on the percentage
of young people graduating; now it is 10th. The UK spends under
3% of GDP on tertiary education; China spends 4%. India has similar
ambitions, with more than a doubling of the participation rate
planned over the next few years.
6. In parallel with these international
trends, the fact that Higher Education in Wales is a devolved
responsibility gives Wales the opportunity to develop policies
which differ from those in England and are geared to Welsh requirements.
However, the boundary between England and Wales in Higher Education
is, to say the least, porous, and consequently a nice balance
must be struck between being part of the UK system and introducing
some policies which are particularly geared to Wales.
7. Clearly one of the areas in which the
variation in arrangements is most marked is in relation to deferred
flexible fees. In recent years Aberystwyth has experienced a significant
increase in applications to Welsh HEI from Welsh domiciled students.
This would have been expected, and is in line with the Welsh Assembly
Government's policy in relation to increase the percentage of
students from Wales studying within Wales. Aberystwyth warmly
welcomes this increase. However over the last few years we have
also experienced a significant downturn in applications from English
domiciled students (between 2005 and 2007 there was a decrease
of over 20%, with a similar increase in percentage terms in applications
8. This downturn has affected most institutions
in Wales to some extent, depending in part on the mix of students
from Wales and those from outside Wales. The reasons are likely
to be complex: there may have been an issue of obtaining clear
information about the fee regime and in particular bursary provision.
At the same time other factors have been at play, in particular
the increasing localisation which has occurred at the same time
as the internationalisation noted above.
9. We are conscious of the way in which
DIUS has encouraged and incentivised universities in England to
engage with schools. It is important for Aberystwyth that we can
engage with schools in England to remain competitive. It is already
the case that our bursary provision is recognised as one of the
best in the UK. At the same time we have to ensure that our provision
remains attractive, and we spend significant effort in portfolio
10. The effort which Aberystwyth devotes
to ensuring an attractive and competitive provision on the UK-wide
scene is evinced by the fact that it has done extremely well in
all surveys of student satisfaction (as, indeed, have HEIs in
Wales generally). The results of the National Student Survey have
been excellent, and Aberystwyth registered the highest score in
the UK for student satisfaction in The Times Good University
11. It is because it is so essential to
remain competitive that we are concerned about the potential cumulative
effect of the so-called funding gap if corrective action is not
12. The flow of students into Wales provides
significant direct inflow to the economy in Wales, but is an outstanding
means of demonstrating the best that Wales has to offer. We agree
with the statement made by Higher Education Wales in its submission
to the Select Committee that there would be serious consequences
to reputation and to the economy of Wales if a more insular approach
to cross-border flow of students and staff develops.
13. Aberystwyth University strongly support
the maintenance of the dual support system for supporting research.
This however does mean that one funding stream is devolved (the
support channelled through the Funding Council), while the other,
that through the Research Councils, is not. It is important that
Welsh HEI are seen to compete on a UK-wide basis, and the assessment
of research in future, by whatever mechanism is agreed, should
be UK-wide. It is reasonable to use different policy drivers which
acknowledge the particular needs of Wales and in order to strengthen
the research base in Wales, but only in the context of a single
14. It is often necessary to remind UK wide
agencies that research funding is indeed UK-wide and that Wales
should be given the opportunity to compete for a share of the
available funding. An excellent example involving Aberystwyth
is the funding from BBSRC for the new Institute of Biological,
Environmental and Rural Sciences.
15. It is important that governments in
Westminster and Cardiff exchange information and we endorse the
comments made in the HEW submission on the importance of effective
channels of communications between officials and politicians.
16. We are concerned that a number of initiatives
have been introduced in England without a counterpart being available
in Wales. One of these is the matched fundraising scheme, and
we hope that such a scheme can be introduced in Wales.
17. Of particular concern is the large scale
review of HE in England announced by DIUS. This could have serious
cross-border impact, and there is a serious danger that HEIs in
Wales could simply "lose out" as a result of the wide
range of initiatives that are likely to emerge. We have already
mentioned the mechanisms for engagement with schools and colleges.
18. Perhaps the most serious implication
would be as a result of any decision to change the fee regime
in England. Should the fee cap be raised or even lifted completely,
without a corresponding facility in Wales, HEI in Wales would
face a period of sharply decreasing competitiveness, over and
above that which might ensue from the funding gap if it persists.
19. HEI in Wales engage with employers both
within Wales and across the border. We recognise the economic
impact of universities such as Aberystwyth and the importance
of engagement with local companies. However, the engagement must
be with companies of all sizes, and that means establishing working
relationships with companies outside Wales.
20. Direct knowledge transfer is an important
aspect of our work, through consultancy work and research contracts,
and also through the establishment of spin out companies, an area
where Aberystwyth has been successful. The difficulty which we
have found in relation to direct commercialisation is the attracting
of second phase venture capital funding; we are certain that improved
communications would have a significant effect.
21. A vibrant and successful Higher Education
sector is essential for the development of the "Knowledge
Economy" in Wales. Aberystwyth is very much aware of its
contribution to the local and regional economy, and we emphasise
the importance of the spectrum leading from pure research, through
applied and strategic research, to knowledge transfer and innovation.
Our approach to research, scholarship and knowledge transfer is
outward looking, acknowledging the requirements of the end-users
of research, and gathering together interdisciplinary teams to
respond to important current challenges and problems.
22. Wales needs an HE sector which competes
effectively within the UK. It is part of the UK Higher Education
system and must develop mechanisms for combining this position
with its contribution to the needs of Wales. Policy must ensure
that it continues to attract students, staff and investment into
Professor Noel Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and Principal