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


Memorandum submitted by Professor E W Jones, Principal, Harper Adams University College

SUMMARY

  1.  There are a number of key reasons why issues and decisions relating to the Welsh Higher Education Sector have relevance for Harper Adams University College and the cross-border nature of its engagement into Wales. These arise from:

    —  Our location (Paragraph 5).

    —  Our mission and its relevance to the Welsh Rural Economy (Paragraph 5).

    —  Our subject specialization in agriculture, food and land-based studies (Paragraphs 5 and 6).

    —  Our importance in national and regional provision of a Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subject (Paragraphs 5 and 8).

    —  Our recruitment and training of Welsh students (Paragraph 7).

    —  Our active engagement with Welsh businesses and communities in business development, entrepreneurship and training (Paragraph 9).

  2.  The student funding system in Wales has already introduced a disparity between the grant (non-repayable) assistance to Welsh students that study in Wales compared with in England, and hence its relative financial attractiveness. We would be concerned if any future changes were to exacerbate this situation further (Paragraph 8).

  3.  We also believe there are significant benefits for Welsh students that study at Harper Adams University College arising from the high employability of its graduates. For those students that might be diverted for financial reasons to study in Wales, these employability benefits clearly may be affected (Paragraphs 5 and 8).

  4.  We believe there are opportunities to develop more co-ordinated approaches to HE and RDA/WDA-related initiative-funding streams, where cross-border activity could take place, and where currently either activity and its funding ceases at regional or national boundaries, or the multiplicity of funding agencies to be addressed in securing separate funding streams adds to cost and complexity (Paragraphs 9 and 10).

  5.  Harper Adams University College is a specialist Higher Education institution focusing on agriculture, land and food related studies, located some 15 miles from Shrewsbury near Newport in Shropshire, in the heart of the Welsh Marches Region. Its mission is "Higher education for the delivery of a sustainable food chain and rural economy".[45] It is a major deliverer in the United Kingdom of a Strategically Important and Vulnerable subject, "land-based studies".[46] The University College has over 2,000 full time equivalent students and almost 4,000 registered learners, and is recognized nationally for the excellence and high quality of its provision.[47], [48] A unique feature of provision is the sandwich degree structure at the University College, which includes one year of work experience for its undergraduates in year 3 of a four year degree course. This contributes greatly to the employability of graduates, with almost 99% of graduates employed within six months of graduation.

  6.  The University College has the largest number of students in the agriculture group of subjects in the UK. In the academic year 2006-07 it accounted for over 22% of all full time first degree undergraduates studying within the agriculture subject group in the UK, and 19% of all undergraduate and postgraduates. This compares with a combined total in the Welsh Universities (Aberystwyth and Bangor) of just over 8% respectively for first degree undergraduate and all students in agriculture and related subjects.[49]

  7.  The student recruitment base of Harper Adams is regional, national and international. However, the Welsh dimension to its recruitment is important, with 10% of full time new student entrants in 2006 and 2007 being drawn from Wales. Indeed the University College has a very active Harper Cymry alumni association. Centres for Welsh students to study land-based subjects locally at Higher Education level are at peripheral locations—Aberystwyth, Bangor and Harper Adams University College. Of the Welsh students at Harper Adams, almost half originate from within the Marches border counties of Wales, revealing that despite its cross-border English location, the University College has an important regional role in a geographic sense, where its hinterland is defined not in terms of administrative or political boundaries, but by communications and other socio-economic linkages.

  8.  However, we note that there are differences in the costs to students of studying in Wales relative to pursuing similar studies in England. By way of example, a Welsh student whose parental income was £25,000 per annum would receive a maintenance grant of £1,730 and a fee grant of £1,890, in total grant aid of £3,620. If the student were to study in England, only a maintenance grant of £2,835 would be receivable, a difference of some £785 annually, or in total over £2,300 less to repay through the student loan after three years of study. Whilst we have not yet seen a reduction in our Welsh intake, we would be concerned were there to be any greater divergence in relative costs of study to students which could undermine recruitment in a strategic subject area within a major provider.

  9.  The work of the University College in Knowledge Transfer and more generally in its Third Mission activities through links with business and communities and in the employer engagement agendas also have a significant cross-border reach and impact. The University College is active in continuing professional development and training. In particular, it is responsible for the assessment of all Suitably Qualified Persons (SQPs) who can dispense animal medicines under the Animals Medicines Training Regulatory Authority (AMTRA) accreditation. Almost 200 students registered in this scheme are from Wales. Furthermore, SQP training courses were delivered in situ both last year and this year at Trinity College, Carmarthen. Another important Harper Adams initiative has been in providing support for women rural entrepreneurs through the Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE) project. There are almost 100 WiRE contacts in Wales, with two vibrant networks in Camarthenshire and Powys providing training, support and workshops. A mini conference was also held in Camarthenshire in 2007 attracting 70 delegates. Such projects and employer-led training could derive still significant greater benefit and impact from the development of co-ordinated cross-border approaches to funding, which currently sit rigidly within administrative boundaries.

  10.  In summary, Harper Adams University College, through its location on the eastern boundary of Wales is already substantially serving its Welsh hinterland as a major centre for land-based education of Welsh students, and delivering within Wales through a number of cross-border educational initiatives. It would welcome the opportunity to explore further with both the HE funding agencies (HEFCE and HEFCW) and with the WDA and Advantage West Midlands, any possibilities for integrated cross-border activities in higher education delivery, skills development and research within its specialist disciplines.

30 April 2008










45   We note that "the heart of our policy" at the Department of Rural Affairs is "Helping farming become more sustainable economically, socially and environmentally". http://new.wales.gov.uk/about/departments/depc/?lang=en Back

46   Review of Provision for Land-based Studies. JM Consulting and SQW May 2007.
http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports/2007/rd09_07/ 
Back

47   Sunday Times University College of the Year 2007, one of five UK institutions shortlisted for University of the Year; ranked first for teaching quality and graduate level employment in the UK; 4th in the national Student satisfaction survey and rated "exceptionally highly" by head teachers. Back

48   It ranks 44th in the Sunday Times 2008 League Tables, with only one Welsh University, Cardiff, ranked above it.
http://www.universityfinder.co.uk/the-sunday-times-good-university-guide-2008-league-table.html 
Back

49   Source Higher Education Information Database (heidi). Back


 
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