Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740-759)|
24 JUNE 2008
Q740 Mark Pritchard: Do you think
part of the £60 million deficit might be met by a similar
scheme being introduced in Wales and, if so, where do you think
those likely pools of donations and international companies are
going to come from, given that by definition there are less international
companies in the geographical area of Wales than there are in
the geographical area of England?
Professor Jones: I do believe
that the investment gap, the difference in funding between England
and Wales, is a difference in the core funding and needs to be
addressed as such. The matched funding scheme in England is in
a sense additional and is a fairly small sum of money in global
terms, in terms of the funding of higher education in the UK.
There are two separate problems, it seems to me: one is the funding
issue; and the second is that the policy variation and the matched-funding
scheme is an example of different policies being pursued in England
from in Wales. Its impact is serious but marginal compared to
the fundamental issue of the core funding.
Q741 Mark Pritchard: May I just say
I was in Amman recently and I met somebody who works for the Amman
Government. He had studied at university in Wales and he was praising
the university sector.
Professor Jones: You must give
me his name!
Q742 Mr David Jones: I would like
to ask you about the DIUS review on higher education in England.
Is HEW or are Welsh universities individually participating in
Professor Jones: We certainly
are through Universities UK, which is preparing a statement to
present to the DIUS review. I do not think I am revealing any
secrets: I have seen an early draft of that document. Right up
front, I think it does emphasise that even though the DIUS review
is a review of higher education in England, and a root and branch
review by the way of higher education in England, the implications
of any recommendations that arise from that review are going to
be profound for the whole of the UKfor Wales, Scotland
and Northern Ireland as well. We will certainly be inputting into
the discussion directly through Universities UK, but there also
of course needs to be an engagement between the Welsh Assembly
Government and the Department for Innovation, Universities and
Q743 Mr David Jones: What do you
see the implications for Welsh higher education to be?
Professor Jones: Because we are
part of a UK system of higher education, and that is the way in
a sense we are perceived globally, if there are major changesand
I do not know what those changes might be and certainly when we
also consider the issue of funding and the cap on student fees
and so on that is also being reviewed across Englandeither
in policy or in funding in England, then that will have a profound
impact on our competitive position in Wales. If there is an increase
of funding in England, then that will clearly affect our ability
to compete. There may be policy divergences as well. We do not
know what the recommendations are going to be. Anything that affects
the English sector, which after all is the major part of the UK's
university sector, and any policy that affects that affects us
in Wales. If I may say so, that is why this committee and Members
of Parliament have a very important role in ensuring that the
process in England is aware of the situation in Wales and similarly
that policy makers in Wales are aware of possible shifts in policy
in the UK Government.
Q744 Mr David Jones: If the review
were to result in an expansion of the number of higher education
centres in England would there be any particular consequences
for Welsh higher education centres? I am thinking particularly
perhaps of those close to the border.
Professor Jones: There already
are some plans of course in England to expand the number of outlets,
as it were, for higher education. Yes, it certainly would have
an impact. The truth of the matter is of course that perhaps not
quite all but most institutions in Wales are not very far from
the border and do already compete with institutions, On the other
hand, they do not have to be just on the other side of the border;
they can be some way away. The distribution of HE institutions
in England could clearly affect our market because there is, as
you know, a considerable flow of students across the border in
Ms Wilkinson: There is certainly
an issue in terms of England looking at this review only within
England's borders and not taking into account the institutions
that are spread certainly along the Welsh border, which could
give a very different complexion to what one might describe as
a cold spot for higher education, given that provision is there
just over the border.
Q745 Mr David Jones: To what extent
do you understand that the Welsh Assembly Government is engaging
with DIUS in this review?
Ms Wilkinson: I would say we are
not clear about the level of engagement between the Welsh Assembly
Government and DIUS in terms of this review.
Q746 Mr David Jones: Are you aware
of any engagement at all?
Ms Wilkinson: We are not aware
of any specific engagement in terms of the DIUS review between
the Welsh Assembly Government and DIUS in terms of how that is
going to inform the review of the Assembly's own policy in relation
to higher education Reaching Higher, which is due to take
place this autumn.
Q747 Mr David Jones: Do you think
that is a shortcoming, given the clear importance of the DIUS
review to Welsh higher education as much as to English higher
Ms Wilkinson: I think, as we have
already articulated, it is very important that there is proper
engagement between all players in terms of this DIUS review because
there are bound to be impacts on Welsh higher education as a result
of this review. One could argue that it is an England-only policy,
but that may well necessitate changes in Welsh policy if we are
going to stay competitive. We need to be well-cited on what comes
through that review at all levels, particularly in relation to
those UK issues around research in science, which are very important
and where we have already had some issues.
Q748 Mr David Jones: It would be
fair to say that you would be looking for more co-ordination at
government level in terms of higher education policy in England
and Wales? Ms Wilkinson: Yes, I think that is right.
I think we do have to look at the mechanisms for co-ordinating
higher education policy at a UK level, not to prejudice the role
of the Welsh Assembly Government and the devolved powers that
it has in relation to higher education, but there are clearly
UK competencies and there needs to be co-ordination in order those
are properly addressed and that the needs of Wales are properly
Q749 Chairman: When we had the Secretary
of State for Wales before us discussing health matters on this
inquiry, when we asked him about the nature of the bilateral ministerial
meetings, he agreed with us that it would be healthy for democracy
and for policy development that these meetings should be made
clearer, announced, the nature of the meetings should be explained.
Would you agree that that would be equally helpful in terms of
when the education or higher education ministers met in this context?
Professor Jones: Yes, I am sure
that it would. You will see in our written evidence that we do
suggest some mechanisms, and indeed we discussed those with the
Secretary of Statethat would allow an all-UK view to be
developed so that at least the various administrations understand
what each other is doing because whatever happens will impact
on other parts of the UK. We do need that kind of structure. Again,
if I may repeat what I said earlier, it seems to me that that
is where, if I may say so, there is a role for Members of Parliament
and indeed for this Committee to be aware of what is happening,
both at a UK, England and Wales level.
Ms Wilkinson: There is also a
need for proper co-ordination between civil servants, otherwise
we miss out on what appear to be quite straightforward issues;
for example, DIUS is co-ordinating a meeting with Indian officials
to look at the UK initiative for higher education. Again, we are
not clear about the level of Welsh involvement in that meeting
and it is as important a market for our institutions as it is
for institutions in England. It is also in those smaller market-sensitive
issues where co-ordination is going to be helpful to us.
Q750 Mr Martyn Jones: What are your
views on the Welsh Assembly Government's science policy document
"A Science Policy for Wales"?
Professor Jones: Science policy
is an area where clearly there is some funding through HEFCW into
scientific research but science as such is not a devolved area
because much of the funding for science through the science research
councils and so on is UK-based. We very much welcomed the development
of "A Science Policy for Wales" and look forward to
it being underpinned by funding that would allow the science base
to be developed in Wales. Of course, when one is thinking about
science in Wales, it is not entirely limited to universities but
it is very dependent on universities in the sense that we do not
have the other corporate capacity in science research that you
find elsewhere. Science and the development of scienceand
I use the word "science" broadlyit seems to me
is absolutely fundamental to the future success of our economy.
We do need a coherent plan for ensuring that we do have a strong,
healthy science base in Wales. We do face particular challenges
in that regard. Some of the statistics do demonstrate that we
have a long way to go in order really to establish ourselves as
a major force.
Q751 Mr Martyn Jones: Is it in the
best interests of the Welsh people to have a separate Welsh policy
on science when science is a UK responsibility, as you noted in
Professor Jones: I do believe
there are certain emphases in Wales; there are strengths and weaknesses
in Wales which are not reflected elsewhere. It does seem to me
to be probably sensible to have a science policy which drives
and which is, as it were, built on our strengths and addresses
our weaknesses. To some extent, the science policy we have does
Q752 Mr Martyn Jones: Does Welsh
higher education get a fair hearing and allocation from the UK-wide
elements of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
Professor Jones: It is up to us
really to respond to those initiatives but there are some initiatives
which are England only. I am not referring to DIUS here but for
example the merger of the Medical Research Council with the NHS
research capacity in England as it were brought a UK-wide body
and an England-only body together into one funding mechanism.
It is early days to say if that is having any impact on funding.
Clearly, if you look at the percentage of research council funding
coming into Wales, we ought to be getting more of that but I would
be the first to admit that that is as much to do with the strength
in the sector as with research council policy.
Ms Wilkinson: The real issue is
how we develop our activity and how we can be supported to do
that, given the supporting role that scientific development can
play to the economy in Wales. That is fairly fundamental from
our point of view in terms of the way we have approached science
policy. One has seen interventions in funding at a UK level which
necessarily have quite specific regional impacts. I think we would
like to see Wales considered for that sort of funding.
Q753 Mr Martyn Jones: Can I move
on to health policy? How effective is the UK-wide co-ordination
of workforce planning for health professionals?
Professor Jones: May I respond
to that in a very narrow, edgy way rather than the big question
involved here? This affects higher education and this is true
across the United Kingdom, as much in England as in Wales. It
can affect us very directly. The first point to note, I suppose,
is that the market for health professionals is a UK market or
indeed a global market. Work force planning within national boundaries
can perhaps in itself be not very helpful. What happens in HE,
to give you an example, is if one day we think we need thousands
more nurses, we put on the courses; we hire the staff and create
thousands more nurses. Then the workforce panel might say, "Actually,
we do not need any more nurses", so we will turn off the
tap and then you are left with very expensive staff and equipment
and so on. That has been a big problem in England and it is something
of a problem in Wales as well. The same goes in other areas. Once
you do attempt to fund on the basis of workforce planning, it
is very important that those who are doing the funding and planning
recognise that when HE puts on these courses to train vocationally
that infrastructure is still in place when the tap is turned off
and that it is a real expenditure. Therefore, there is a real
risk in being involved in that business because we cannot be guaranteed
on the throughput of students.
Q754 Mr Martyn Jones: Is there anything
that you can do to help the over- or under-supply of professionals
in the HE sector? Can you liaise with DIUS to get them to try
to get that balance, if you like?
Professor Jones: Yes, we do and
there is engagement between the professional bodies and we train
in these vocational areas. The same is true, by the way, of teacher
training as well. There is a considerable interchange of views
and planning, but it is not always clear that there are significant
costs involved in reducing provision in these areas.
Q755 Mark Pritchard: I have two brief
supplementaries on research funding. Do you think Wales gets a
fair slice of the cake from central government and do you think
research funding is dominated by the Russell Group and the usual
blue sky allocations?
Professor Jones: I think there
are all sorts of issues there when you look at the distribution
of research funding. Of course research funding does not just
happen in universities. As I said earlier, because of the distribution
of corporate R&D, relatively little of that happens in Wales.
In Wales we are particularly peculiarly dependent on universities
to sustain research. If you look at the figures, we should probably
be getting a bit more of that research council money and money
from other sources. That is in part because all of this money
is not distributed by formula; it is distributed in competition.
So it is all to do with the strength of the competition. Yes,
there is a huge degree of concentration of research in a relatively
small number of units. It is quite extraordinary the degree of
concentration of research. It is not just institutions in Wales
that have found it rather more difficult; many others do as well.
Q756 Mark Pritchard: To help the
Committee, Professor, is there a particular example of a university
in Wales, not necessarily Bangor to help yourself, where if the
increase in research funding was given, Wales's global competitiveness
or industrial base would be enhanced?
Professor Jones: I think so very
definitely. There are a number of universities in Wales where
that would make a huge difference. I was quoting last week a figureand
this comes from MITthat in order really to have a major
impact on a regional economy you need a research income of about
£40 million a year. Certainly the research universities,
obviously Bangor and Swansea, are not yet in that category; we
are more at about the £20-£25 million per year. Cardiff
of course is over that point. If that step change were to happen,
I think we would see a very major impact on the Welsh economy.
I have no doubt about that.
Q757 Alun Michael: Before going on
to the main question, can I stick with this question of research
funding? What measures, if any, should be taken to try to increase
research council funding? Martyn asked you about the relationship
with the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills but
what about the specific role of the research council?
Professor Jones: All of that money
is won competitively. In a sense, it is our responsibility; we
should be putting in stronger bids and perhaps lobbying harder
for the bids. I think we do very well but we need to do better.
I honestly do not believe that it is driven by any kind of policies
at the research council level. On the other hand, we do need to
be aware that there are other substantial funds going into research
in other parts of the United Kingdom, either directly from corporate
investment or from regional development agencies, which have made
a big impact of direct investment in research in other parts of
England, particularly the north-west of England for example.
Q758 Alun Michael: In that event,
if it is really in the hands of the universities in Wales to do
better competitively, is your organisation seeking to enhance
their capacity to do that?
Professor Jones: We are but not
so much through Higher Education Wales. We are certainly collaborating
in order to try to do that. That is the key to it because many
of our science departments are a bit on the small side, even within
each institution, but if you put them together with other institutions
they become very significant.
Q759 Alun Michael: I think some of
us have welcomed the engagement of Higher Education Wales with
Members of Parliament in the last year or so, and perhaps the
upping of the game and that relationship might help.
Professor Jones: Absolutely.