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

Memorandum submitted by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) Dysgu Cymru


  (i)  The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) is the national, independent organisation for adult learning in England and Wales. As a registered charity, founded in 1921, NIACE both represents and advances the interests of all adult learners and potential learners—especially those who have benefited least from education and training. NIACE aims to improve opportunities for adult learners across all sectors with a particular focus on those adults who have not had successful access to learning in their initial education.

  (ii)  NIACE Dysgu Cymru (NDC) the Welsh arm of NIACE, conducts work in Wales supported by a Management Group, which is elected by NIACE members in Wales. The membership of NDC comprises almost all further education colleges, all Local Authorities, most higher education institutions, individuals, Careers Wales, TUC, UfI and other representatives of a range of organisations whose focus is specifically on responding to the needs of adult learners.


1.  Policy context in Wales

  Since devolution in 1999 the divergence in educational policy and distinctiveness of Wales' educational institutions, structures and working arrangements has become more marked.

  The Welsh Assembly Government's strategies for education, and latterly education and employment (The Learning Country: Vision into Action (2006) and Skills that Work for Wales (2008)) continue to differ from their equivalents in England in particular. Whilst the latter reflects broad similarities (with England) in terms of direction of travel, there remains a greater emphasis on widening participation and social justice. Significantly, the Welsh Assembly Government also differs from Westminster departments in terms of its emphasis on partnership and collaboration, not competition/ contestability (as a means to achieving these aims).

  More broadly, the structures within which education and training are delivered in Wales differ from those in England. The call for a "bonfire of the quangos" pre-dated democratic devolution, but was subsequently embraced by the Welsh Assembly Government. The effect on quality of delivery of policy in England and Wales is difficult to assess, though it certainly presents a complex set of arrangements for learners living on the border. The (government) departmental arrangements in England and Wales now differ significantly. Wales' Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning & Skills plans and delivers education and training for all ages (excluding higher education), while in England responsibility is split between two departments, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and delivered by a variety of quangos.

2.  Further Education

  There are a number of specific points in relation to further education, which NDC believes merit consideration by the Committee:

    —  The level of funding, per head of population, is greater in England than in Wales, particularly in relation to capital funding. If this gap is not closed, it could put institutions near the border at considerable risk of losing learners to nearby English institutions.

    —  FE Lecturers have secured pay parity with school teachers in Wales. NDC welcomes this as a positive step towards achieving parity of esteem between the FE and schools sector. However, there is a concern that pay parity has been achieved at the expense of investment in, for example, facilities, equipment and training in Wales.

    —  There appears to be no political appetite for private finance initiative in Wales (One Wales explicitly rules this out for the Health service), which could potentially impact on levels of capital investment in comparison with England.

    —  Funding for 16-19 provision remains within Welsh Assembly Government (there appears to be no appetite in Wales to shift this to LEAs).

    —  Many colleges (particularly those on border or of specialist nature-including residential provision) recruit students from England.

    —  FE Colleges in England have the power to validate their own foundation degrees. As this is currently not the case in Wales, it could lead to English border colleges targeting recruitment at Welsh learners.

3.  Adult and Community Learning

  There are a number of specific points in relation to Adult and Community Learning (ACL) which NDC believes merit consideration by the Committee:

    —  The ACL sector in Wales is characterised by a diverse range of provision delivered by a wide range of providers, including many outside the mainstream institutions of formal post-school education. These include museums, libraries and various voluntary and community-based organisations. NDC believes that there should be a greater understanding of the contribution that ACL makes to a broad range of Government agendas. These often fall outside of the government departments with direct responsibility for ACL (described above). NIACE's work on typologies, set out at Annex A, may be of assistance in this respect. In summary, NIACE has identified the following different strands of ACL:

    —  First Steps work;

    —  Skills for Life, (including embedded basic skills);

    —  Skills for Independent Living;

    —  Skills for Work;

    —  Learning for interest, personal fulfillment and for well-being and health; and

    —  Learning for active citizenship and/or community development.

    —  In particular, ACL plays a crucial role in widening participation and contributing to greater equality of opportunity, by taking provision to learners rather than expecting disadvantaged learners to come to the provision. It is also important to recognise the role of informal, non-formal and non-accredited learning which form key parts of ACL provision; developing key skills and building confidence to participate in wider society, as well as often being the first steps to additional learning, qualifications and skills.

    —  Over the last decade or so, much post-19 provision for learners has been underpinned by European funding particularly in the areas of widening participation and reducing economic inactivity. Although the importance of ACL to economic growth is recognised by the European Commission,[50] there is significant concern across the sector that ACL related projects will be squeezed out of the ESF Convergence Programme. This is despite compelling evidence on the wider benefits of all types of learning (see Furthermore, there is concern that too narrow an understanding of the learning needs of the most excluded and marginalized in society will lead to a devaluation of ACL despite its catalytic role in stimulating demand for all kinds of learning amongst such groups.

    —  NDC is keen that the broad variety of post-16 education provision is maintained for learners in England and Wales to ensure equality of opportunity and that participation continues to be widened.

    —  Whilst appreciating the context of limited funding, NDC believes that it is unfortunate that ACL provision in particular is often the "first to be cut". In England over the last two years 1.4 million learners have been lost. This may also put additional pressure on ACL providers in the Welsh border regions, as learners travel to access provision which has been cut in England.

4.  Higher Education

  NDC believes that there are a number of specific points in relation to Higher Education which merit consideration by the Committee:

    —  Higher Education is intrinsically cross-border in nature. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are also international organisations, recruiting staff, and accessing research income from a global marketplace.

    —  Cross-border working is pivotal to the future success of Welsh HEIs.

    —  The UK Higher Education system operates on a "dual support" model. Firstly, investment in teaching and research is channelled through DIUS in England, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Executive. Three national funding councils (HEFCE, HEFCW, SFC) operate on an "arms length" from their Governments, and allocate grant funding to their universities. The devolved institutions receive funding as a result of a Barnett formula "consequentials" related to the level of DIUS HE spending in England, but are then free to decide what level of investment to channel to HE through their respective funding councils. It is considered that levels of funding per student in Wales are lower than in England. Secondly, DIUS invests in universities and national research institutes (including all the research councils). This funding is not allocated according to any formula, but is based on rigorous grant application processes.

    —  Given the "dual support" model described above, it is essential that Whitehall departments involve the devolved administrations in any discussions about possible changes to policy in relation to HE funding.

    —  Following the Rees & Graham Reviews into student finance in Wales, different systems of fees and support arrangements have developed in England and Wales. The has been a reduction in applications from England domiciled students to study in Welsh HEIs, although it is not clear whether this is due to the differing fee arrangements or other issues. NDC understands that HEFCW are currently undertaking research into this issue. However, NDC believes that a reduction in student mobility is undesirable.

  NDC would also draw the Committee's attention to the Furlong Review of Initial Teacher Training, undertaken on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government in 2005. Furlong made a number of comments in relation to cross-border services. In particular:

    —  Data analysis: Data is collected by UK Government (in the case of initial teacher training) to model teacher supply. Despite the fact that the model covers both England and Wales, it does not include any Wales specific data in the calculations. This was not necessarily a problem pre-devolution, when oversupply (eg of newly qualified teachers) in one part of the country contributed to addressing undersupply in another. However, now that devolved administrations are responsible for the funding, they need ensure a closer match between demand and supply in each country.

    —  This issue raises the question; to what extent should HEIs in Wales use better workforce planning in an attempt to achieve a match between demand and supply, or can the system be better configured to continue to support a UK wide HE system?

5.  Media

  NDC believes that there are a number of points in relation to the media which the Committee might wish to take into consideration:

    —  A number of issues, highlighted most recently by Professor Tony King in his review of network news, impact on the delivery of services in England and Wales. For example, in relation to education and training, advertising funded by the UK Government often relates only to England initiatives (for example Education Maintenance Allowance, "golden handshakes" for teachers etc).

    —  In addition to this, UK wide services, such as those provided by learndirect, can provide inaccurate or misleading information about services in Wales.

6.  Conclusions

  There appears to be little evidence of cross-border co-ordination. However, it is also unclear how desirable or possible such co-ordination would be in the context of diverging policy. Informal reciprocal agreements are in place on the cross-border recruitment of FE learners. Additional bureaucracy would not be welcomed by providers or learners.

  Marketing (eg of the Train to Gain programme) and indeterminate distribution of English policy documents can lead to confusion for providers in Wales. Of greater significance, however, is the apparent lower levels of funding for providers (particularly FE and HE institutions) in Wales compared to England.

Annex A


First StepsLearning which is offered as an initial entry point into learning and from which learners are actively encouraged and supported to progress to other forms of learning.
Skills for Life, including Embedded Basic Skills Learning for which, whatever the title of the course, the primary intention is to enhance the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and/or English language for speakers of other languages.
Skills for Independent LivingLearning which develops the knowledge, skills and understanding of adults with learning difficulties and disabilities for independent living in the community.
Skills for WorkLearning which enables people to develop the skills they need for paid or voluntary work and which will enhance their employability.
Learning for Interest and Personal Well Being and Health Learning for personal development, cultural engagement, intellectual or creative stimulation and for enjoyment, and for which there is no expectation that learners should necessarily progress to other learning.
Learning for Active Citizenship and/or Community Development Community based learning developed with local residents and other learners to build the skills, knowledge and understanding for social and community action.

June 2008

50   Communication from the Commission of the European Communities, Adult Learning: It's Never Too Late to Learn (COM (2006) 614)). Back

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