Memorandum submitted by Professor Teresa
Rees, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research), Cardiff University
I am very pleased that the important issue of
cross border services is being addressed by the Welsh Affairs
Committee as I believe it is an issue that has been neglected
since devolution, particularly so in the case of policies regarding
higher education. The matter is more crucial now given that some
responsibilities, but not all, have now been devolved to the Welsh
As well as being an academic at a Welsh higher
education institution responsible for strategic leadership in
research, my background is as follows. I chaired two independent
reviews for the former Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning
at the Assembly, Ms Jane Davidson, on higher education funding
and student support in 2001,
They made a series of recommendations on these issues, the vast
majority of which have been implemented. As a social scientist,
I am a member of a 23 strong team of European researchers funded
by the European Commission to conduct research on knowledge economies
at the regional level. Finally, I have been a researcher concerned
with contributing to evidence based policy in Wales, the UK and
the European Union throughout my academic life. I am a Fellow
of the National School of Government's Sunningdale Institute set
up at the instigation of Sir Gus O'Donnell to bring together "thinkers"
and senior civil servants.
Clearly it is still early days in the devolutionary
journey. However, there is some clear evidence in higher education
that some important issues both for Wales and the UK are slipping
between stools, however inadvertently, with highly adverse consequences
for Wales. I should like to focus on the key issues of student
fees and support, higher education funding, and research funding.
I believe it was mistaken to cast student contributions
to their education as "fees". However, during the "Rees
Reviews" students explained to us that their education was
important to them and they did not want to "shop around"
for bargains but to take informed decision based on quality and
suitability of course and institution. The "market"
between the countries of the UK which have different fee structures
means that "choice" is now increasingly confusing for
students, and there is a view that the home country offers the
best deal (whether or not this is true). This restricts choice
for poorer students. It is therefore vital that any decisions
made about lifting the fee cap in England should take into account
the effects on other countries. Consultation is crucial.
The "dual funding system" which supports
UK universities is a well respected system. However, since devolution,
its efficacy has been affected by the fact that some decisions
about spend on higher education, for example on pay and pensions,
are made at a UK level while universities' capacity to meet the
bills depends upon the approach taken to investing in higher education
in the respective countries. Hence, there is now a funding gap
in higher education between England and Wales (also known as the
"investment gap") of an estimated £62 million a
year, a figure that is scheduled to continue rising each year.
We are already seeing the consequences of this gap in deteriorating
spend per student in Welsh institutions (reflected in the recent
Independent league tables). Infrastructure repair and new
investment are first casualties. Difficulties in recruiting and
retaining good staff are likely to follow. Universities in Wales
are unlikely to be able to compete effectively. In England, the
resource follows "excellence". In Wales, following the
last Research Assessment Exercise, the decision was made that
resource earned through selectivity should be spread more thinly.
This makes it particularly difficult for research intensive universities
to contribute to a knowledge economy. The funding gap will widen
further given the decision by the Welsh Assembly Government not
to follow the Westminster Government's decision to match donations
made to English Universities.
A decision made in Westminster to resource the
gap between charities' and Government Departments' funding of
research so that they provided Full Economic Costing (80%) for
commissioned research was not matched in Wales. Equally moves
to ensure that R&D monies in the NHS were used for research
have worked in Northern Ireland (where it is ring fenced) but
not in Wales where it is suspected it is used for clinical work.
Anecdotal evidence from members of Research Assessment Exercise
panels suggests that many returns strongly feature reference to
investment made in universities in England and Scotland from central
government and regional development agencies that has not been
matched in Wales.
I should like to argue that closer attention
should be paid to higher education policies, student support and
research funding in particular at a UK level. Technology transfer,
science policy, negotiating with international research funding
bodies (such as the European Commission), and recruiting international
students are all areas where there is a role to play both in the
separate countries but also at the UK level. The next stage of
devolution should ensure that there is more consultation across
borders and more decision-making informed by the new landscape.
Otherwise the unforeseen consequences, especially those on Wales,
will be highly detrimental.
51 Rees, T, Humphreys, R, Jenkins, D, Pearle, T, Reynolds,
S, Richards, K, Singh, R, Whiting, M, and Woodhall, M (2001) Investing
in Learners: Coherence, clarity and equity for student support
in Wales. A report to the Minister for Education and Lifelong
Learning at the National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff: Independent
Investigation Group on Student Hardship and Funding in Wales,
pp 52 (Chair). Back
Rees, T, Bell, D, Bruce, T, Davies, D, Humphreys, R, Jenson, G,
McGinley, D, Reynolds, S, Richards, K, Singh, R, Smith, E, Williams,
F, Woodall, M, and Wynne-Jones, E (2005) Fair and Flexible
Funding: A Welsh Model to Promote Quality and Access in Higher
Education Final Report of An Independent Study into the Devolution
of the Student Support System and Tuition Fee Regime in Wales
(The Rees Review) Main Report, Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government
ISBN 0 7504 3657 3 pp pp 113 plus CD-ROM of appendices http://www.learning.wales.gov.uk/students/rees-review-e.shtml Back