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

Letter from Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 22 July, addressed to John Denham, Secretary of State for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, concerning points made by Professor Reesy Pro-Vice Chancellor of Cardiff University, at the recent evidence sessions relating to your Committee's inquiry into the impact of devolution on cross-border services in Further and Higher Education. In his absence I am replying on behalf of Bill Rammell who is Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education.

  I welcomed the opportunity to contribute, with my officials, to the inquiry at the oral evidence session on 15 July. I am glad members of the Committee found the session constructive and worthwhile.

  Turning to the points from Professor Rees' evidence that you include in your letter. I believe there is already a good deal of communication between officials at all levels across Further and Higher Education with colleagues in the Devolved Administrations. Some of this is formalised, but more is informal. Where there is UK-wide responsibility, there is a range of mechanisms for UK-wide involvement and strategic planning. For example, the Research Base Funders' Forum, including representatives from Administrations and Funding Councils in the four countries of the UK, is well established and informs priorities and planning at a strategic level. Also, Devolved Administrations had an opportunity to contribute to negotiations on the Seventh Framework Programme and are involved in an ongoing dialogue through the Framework Programme Network.

  However, in addition to official level contacts, I agree that there may be scope for more formalised Ministerial discussions. I suggested in my oral evidence that I should add formal bi-annual meetings with the Welsh Assembly Government to existing contacts. I can see a benefit in also exploring this idea with counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and will put a proposal to them after the recess. I believe a targeted ministerial meeting covering aspects of FE, HE and Research Policy would be a more appropriate mechanism than using the Joint Ministerial Committee, which I do not believe is the appropriate forum for seeking consensus or making agreements on policies.

  You mention that Professor Rees said Welsh Higher Education Institutions do not receive their "fair" share of research funding from DIUS. I think there may be some confusion here. In my evidence, I explained that the UK-wide Research Council funding is allocated on the basis of research excellence. Earlier in her oral evidence Professor Rees supported this by saying "I do not think any institution in Wales is against research funding through Research Councils following excellence, what we are really concerned about is the lack of core funding that we have in Wales for higher education vis-a-vis England". She went on to add "I do not want to talk about Research Councils, because actually I think we are all fairly happy with the way that the Research Councils operate, but it is the other side, the QR". The QR block grant of funding (that can help act as pump-priming for research) is part of devolved HE policy, so DIUS only funds QR in England (via HEFCE). If Professor Rees is concerned at the level of QR in Wales, she would need to address those concerns to the Welsh Assembly Government, who provide QR funding in Wales.

  You also ask about a "debate on a UK-wide science strategy", where Professor Rees in her evidence expressed concern with having several different science policies. I believe it is because of the importance of a joined up approach to science funding that science is a reserved matter. I am clear that when the Government sets out science policy it does so in view of the UK as a whole. A key foundation of the policy is the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14. The allocation of the Science Budget for the CSRR2007 period clearly and repeatedly emphasises the UK-wide nature of science spending. Against that background, I see no need for a national debate at this time.

  I and my officials stand ready to answer any further questions that arise from your inquiry and I look forward to reading your final report.

27 August 2008

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