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

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 Assembly Government.

  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,[51] 2006[52]). 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.

July 2008

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

52   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 Back

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