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

Memorandum submitted by Professor Michael Scott, Principal, the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education (NEWI)


  The North East Wales Institute of Higher Education (NEWI) is an expanding Higher Education Institution (HEI) with approaching 8,000 students, that is in the final stages of its application for taught degree awarding powers and university title. NEWI has been a full member of the University of Wales since 2004 and is based in Wrexham. With that comes an essentially Welsh ethos. The Institute has close collaborative links with HEIs and Further Education Colleges (FECs) and with businesses in both Wales and England. Given its location less than ten miles from the border with England, NEWI is uniquely qualified to comment on cross-border provision of public services following devolution, informed by both consultancy work and practical experience.

  NEWI welcomes the call for evidence and provides below, from its unique perspective, a report on the cross-border provision of:

    —  further and higher education;

    —  health and social care; and

    —  transport.

  The Senior Executive at NEWI would be supportive of any further work on cross-border issues, both by entering into debate with the Committee and by taking forward research into these issues.


  The perspective of NEWI, as the HEI in Wales closest to the border, is of particular relevance. NEWI, in common with other Welsh HEIs, collaborates with many HEIs in other regions of the UK, in a variety of ways. Institutions appoint external examiners, and honorary research and teaching staff from HEIs from any area of the UK. There is cross-border working in staff development, such as a senior management developmental activity that NEWI has organized with Keele University, Staffordshire.

  There is cross-border collaboration on research and development projects. The Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board have a UK wide brief and invite collaborative proposals from multiple partners. NEWI has collaborated with English institutions in several bids for research funding and has benefited from the availability of cross border expertise in conducting such research. Our partners in current or recent collaborative research include the University of Bath, the University of Durham, University College London, and Surrey University. Through the OpTIC (Opto-electronics Technology and Incubation Centre) Technium in St Asaph, NEWI collaborates with Cambridge University and Cranfield University. Such partnerships enable complementary knowledge and facilities to be brought together in solving complex research problems. The outcome from such research benefits the research community generally as well as industry and students in Wales.

  Collaborative arrangements for educational provision in further and higher education also cross the border. NEWI collaborates with a number of English FECs, for example, in validating Foundation Degree programmes and other sub-degree awards at Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology and developing a partnership with Wirral Metropolitan College. NEWI works also with Reaseheath College by out-reach delivery of HE programmes at the college's premises, and is pleased to provide staff development for academic staff at Reaseheath a Nantwich based college which was awarded the title of "Most Outstanding Commitment to Education and Training" in 2007 in respect of its horticulture provision. NEWI has been exploring the possibility of developing provision in animal health in collaboration with the University of Liverpool, which has one of its Veterinary Science campuses less than 20 miles from NEWI.

  Increasingly NEWI's cross-border educational collaboration includes not only HE or FE institutions, but also corporate training organizations and companies (eg SACCS Limited, Shrewsbury; Scalchemy Training and Development Ltd, Worcester).

  There are a number of cross-border issues around educational provision. Normally, student places funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales cannot be taken up by Welsh institutions delivering or validating programmes at partner institutions in England. For institutions near the Welsh-English border this can be a significant issue. There may be a market for a Welsh institution's programmes in a neighbouring district of England, and a partner English institution wishing to collaborate on provision; however, the current HE funding regime does not support such delivery. The demand for the provision remains unmet, and a market opportunity is lost for both institutions.

  There is concern about reports that English HE institutions have been permitted to buy facilities in Wales and to run courses from them, such as the University of Central Lancashire purchasing Tyn Dwr Hall at Llangollen. There is a perception that a Welsh institution would not be permitted to purchase facilities in England in order to grow its academic base; if this is the case, Welsh HEIs are disadvantaged by unfair competition and restrictions.

  The differential HE fees regime between Wales and England means that English students studying qualifications validated by Welsh HEIs at FECs in England have a financial disincentive compared to their Welsh counterparts to proceed to top up degree studies at the partner Welsh HEI. Care is needed in the implementation of policies intended to benefit Welsh students, that students studying close to the border are not inadvertently disadvantaged. Welsh students may find that the closest higher education provision in their subject of choice is over the border in England, but that this choice of institution means that they are subsequently prevented from practising professionally in Wales because of curricula and policy differences.

  NEWI is aware that data appear to show a "funding gap" between Welsh HEIs and English or Scottish HEIs. Given that all HEIs are in competition, the comparatively lower level of funding given to Welsh HEIs disadvantages them in the market place. Welsh institutions are able to provide fewer resources per student, possibly resulting in equipment and buildings being of a lower standard. Press releases indicate that there have been substantial investments in individual English HEIs and FECs in recent years far in excess of sums invested in any individual Welsh HEI.

  The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales provides funding to support collaboration and reconfiguration amongst Welsh institutions. Whilst such a fund is welcomed, it is generally less valuable to those institutions close to the border with England, for which collaboration would be more appropriate with English institutions because of geographical proximity. There are 12 English HEIs which are geographically closer to NEWI than the nearest Welsh HEI. Chester University, for example, is approximately 13 miles from NEWI whereas the nearest Welsh HEI (Bangor University) is approximately 72 miles away. NEWI believes that support for cross-border collaboration would be beneficial to Welsh HEIs and to the Welsh people.

  It appears that there are currently no Welsh-based representatives on the Councils of several of the Research Councils including MRC, NERC, AHRC or BBRSC and so there may be an issue concerning the lack of a Welsh voice steering the work of these organizations which fund a large proportion of the fundamental research undertaken in the UK. This may be reflected in concern that Welsh HEIs receive significantly less from the Research Councils per FTE academic staff member than English HEIs, with consequent implications for the outcome of the last Research Assessment Exercise (2001) and external, including international, perceptions of the quality of higher education in Wales.

  It is the case that there is excellent higher education in Wales. The appointment of Welsh graduates to senior posts on either side of the border can only enhance the reputation of Wales. Similarly, if Wales is to be fully recognised for its excellence in higher education, Welsh HEIs need to be supported in offering programmes and undertaking research that can attract students, employers and research partners that are both within and outwith of Wales. Where engagement with HE in Wales has a positive impact on a person's career, or in the case of consultancy and research, the competitiveness of a business or enterprise, then Wales naturally creates a network of ambassadors who testify to the high quality service they received. The success of Scotland in creating a "quality brand" in HE demonstrates the effectiveness and importance of ensuring that HE is recognised beyond regional, national, European and international borders.


  Despite its proximity to the border NEWI is firmly rooted in Wales. One advantage of this is the comparatively easy access it has to ministers and civil servants at the Assembly Government. The Institute believes this relationship sometimes allows NEWI's views to be reflected in the policies and strategies emanating from the Assembly Government. An example of this is the Wales Spatial Plan which recognises the geographical influences on North East Wales and advocates further collaboration across the border while at the same time expanding the role of Wrexham (and NEWI) as a major centre within North East Wales.


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March 2008

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