Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Colleges


  1.  The Association of Colleges (AoC) welcomes the opportunity to comment on cross-border provision between England and Wales. AoC is the representative body for the 400 further education colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This submission relates to the Wales-domiciled learners studying in English colleges. Our sister organisation in Wales, fforwm, plans to submit a response relating to Welsh-domiciled learners studying at English colleges.

  2.  In 2006-07 there were 3,761 Welsh domiciled students studying at English further education colleges. 11 colleges account for two-thirds of these students, including colleges in Cheshire, Shropshire and Gloucestershire which are a few miles from the border.

  3.  Learners choose where to study by considering the curriculum available, its quality and the travel to study distance rather than the position of the Wales/England border.

  4.  This response identifies a number of areas where the rules applying to English colleges limits the choices of those living in Wales, particularly those living within a short distance of the border. Often those on the Welsh side live only a few miles from an institution in England but many more miles from an institution in Wales.

  5.  We recommend that the Select Committee consider ways in which the Welsh Assembly Government and the authorities in England improve the co-ordination of cross-border 16-19 and post-19 provision and reconsider the rules that apply to funding, transport and marketing.


  6.  In 2006-07 there were 3,761 Welsh domiciled students studying at English further education colleges. 11 colleges account for two-thirds of these students, including colleges in Cheshire. Shropshire and Gloucestershire which are a few miles from the border. Some, more distant, colleges provide very specific courses which attract an unusually large number of Welsh-domiciled students.

Table 1


Provider Name

Number of
16-18 students

Number of
19+ students

% of Welsh
students in

West Cheshire College
90 72581521.7
Walford and North Shropshire College132 25138310.2
City of Bristol College27 2302576.8
Manchester College of Arts and Technology   (Mancat)




Herefordshire College of Technology84 1111955.2
Blackpool and the Fylde College9 1631724.6
Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology 35118153 4.1
Ruskin College Oxford0 1101102.9
Solihull College090 902.4
Royal Forest of Dean College52 35872.3
Telford College of Arts and Technology 07676 2.0
Others (135 Colleges)207 9061,17331.2

  7.  Table 2 illustrates the comparison with the previous year and particularly a sharp fall in post-19 numbers as a result of the changes to Learning and Skills Council funding rules. These reductions are not particular to Wales-domiciled students and have affected all colleges in England in a similar way. There was a reduction of 700,000 further education students in English colleges between 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Table 2




763 718-5.9
19+4,0133,043 -24.2
Total4,7763,761 -21.3


  8.  Most further education colleges recruit from a local catchment area with students travelling to study from their home or workplace. The English Welsh border follows natural boundaries at most points but cuts across normal daily travel routes in the North and the South (between Cheshire and Flintshire/Sir Y Fflint and between Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire/ Sir Y Fynwy). This would not create a problem were it not for Learning and Skills Council funding rules and processes.

  9.  According to LSC funding guidance, enrolment of Welsh learners should only take place in "exceptional circumstances" and "it is not expected that colleges in England will recruit entire groups of learners from outside their local area" (LSC Learner Eligibility Guidance 2007-08, 17 May 2007) Funding allocations are calculated on English demographics even though colleges close to the border are serving communities in Wales.

  10.  The people who lose out from these rules and processes are Welsh-domiciled learners. English colleges are restricted in their ability to recruit and tailor their courses to local students, who are thereby pushed to study at Welsh colleges even if less convenient or less suitable. This applies in reverse to English domiciled learners who live close to Welsh colleges (for example near the Shropshire/Powys border).

  11.  The different approach taken to funding and pay also has an impact on staffing in colleges. Staff in Welsh colleges are often better paid than their counterparts in England as a result of the Welsh Assembly Government's decision to ensure parity with schools. A college near the border reports that these differences have caused staff to leave for colleges in Wales and has made it more difficult to recruit new people.

  12.  The position could be further complicated by the UK Government proposals to abolish the Learning and Skills Council and transfer responsibility for funding 16-19 provision to local authorities. AoC hopes that the new funding rules are flexible so that college learners in England and Wales are not disadvantaged and the border does not become a barrier to learning. The Government's recent consultation paper "Raising Expectations: enabling the system to deliver" (Cm 7348) may provide an opportunity for the Westminster Government and the Welsh Assembly Government to give a view about the future of cross-border FE provision.


  13.  Colleges close to the border with Wales are unable to offer employer initiatives such as Train to Gain, through which Government subsidises staff training, to businesses in Wales although many of them may have major skills gaps. Colleges are able to offer commercial provision (ie fully paid for by the employer) but are not supposed to market the Government-funded programmes direct to Welsh businesses so are responsive rather than proactive.

  14.  Separately funded initiatives (for example the European Social Fund) cannot be delivered across the border in Wales by colleges based in England. This makes it more difficult for border colleges to support deprived communities in their areas and more likely that funds will be directed elsewhere.

  15.  Learners often travel across the border to access specialisms which are not available in their "home" nation. For example, learners who live in west or central Cheshire who want to study aerospace engineering would probably choose Deeside College as no nearby college in England offers this course. Equally, if a potential student in North Wales wants to study hospital pharmacy they would choose West Cheshire College as no local Welsh college offers it. A primary objective of the education system in both England and Wales must be that these learners are able to access the courses of their choice.

  16.  The figures in Table 1 demonstrate that some colleges, although not near the border, attract a significant number of Wales-domiciled students. For example Blackpool and the Fylde College has 163 learners aged over 19 from Wales. Only three of these learners are funded by the Learning and Skills Council with the majority studying, at full-cost, at the College's specialist Nautical Campus. For example 53% of the total number in the Offshore School and 29% in the Maritime School are Wales-domiciled.


  17.  Transport provision for Wales-domiciled students who choose to learn at colleges in England can often present problems. The Welsh Assembly Government is clear that it does not fund provision for Welsh learners who choose to study outside Wales and this rule also covers transport.

  18.  The issue is complicated by the role of local authorities which is responsible for transport of 16-19 year olds in full-time education. Decisions of local authorities are a major issue when it comes to ensuring learners from both sides of the border are able to access the course of their choice. We have heard from colleges in England whose learners have been affected by a decision of a local authority in Wales to amend the funding rules regarding transport.

  19.  A further issue which has been reported to us is England domiciled learners in rural areas receiving free transport to Welsh colleges whereas if they travel to the English college of their choice, in their home county, they have to pay a contribution towards their travel costs.


  20.  Further education college students on both sides of the England/Wales border need to access the best choice of course to enable their personal advancement and achievement.

  21.  Sometimes a student's course of choice is only available on the "other" side of the border. In these circumstances it is important that every reasonable effort is made by the education providers themselves, the funding bodies and local authorities to ensure that the student is able to exercise their choice.

  22.  The rules regarding funding of Wales-domiciled students in English colleges, and the transport available, are not clear. AoC recommends that the Westminster Government, in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly Government, uses the recent consultation document on the Machinery of Government changes to clarify the approach local authorities and the funding bodies should take to cross-border post-16 provision.

March 2008

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