Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760-772)|
24 JUNE 2008
Q760 Alun Michael: Can I go to the
question of the attraction of students from the rest of the UK?
I am sure you would want to say that Welsh universities are very
successful at this. What are you seeing as the trends? What have
been the recent trends and what are you predicting for the future
in terms of the numbers applying from England to Welsh higher
Professor Jones: The figures are
difficult to interpret, partly because the rules have changed.
What would concern us, and we really need to wait until the autumn
when we see the acceptances to know quite what has happened, is
if there were to be a reduction in the number of students from
England, or indeed from the rest of the EU, coming to Wales. There
are at least some signsit is really too early to see it
as a trend I thinkthat would allow us to worry. Certainly,
something like 96%, I think I am right in saying, of students
in England go to English institutions. We are talking about a
very small segment of the English market.
Q761 Alun Michael: Can I try to push
you there? You say there are some signs that we need to worry
about it. There is a good piece of advice that if there are things
to worry about, worry early. Taking your point that we cannot
be conclusive until we see the numbers actually coming and the
figures in the autumn, what about the figures applying? Is that
where there is a worrying trend?
Ms Wilkinson: There has been this
year some reduction in the numbers of those applying, but we have
to weigh that against the fact that the number of choices applicants
can make has moved from six institutions to five institutions,
which is what makes it particularly difficult this year to make
Q762 Alun Michael: Given that we
are talking about universities and the mathematical capacity within
the universities to work out and predict what the impact of six
to five would be, is the number of applications lower than you
would have predicted?
Professor Jones: The truth of
the matter is that going from six to five has not been equalised
across all universities. There has not been an average drop. Everybody
has gone to different points on it, but I think I would allow
myself to say in this context that I am worried about any trends
that would indicate that, and I think other evidence to this Committee
has also suggested this. Clearly as a sector we are very dependent
on attracting students from other parts of the United Kingdom
and from the rest of the world.
Q763 Alun Michael: Are there decisions
that have been taken in respect of the higher education sector
in Wales that might have helped to encourage that trend and are
there steps that you consider should be taken to enhance the capacity
of Welsh universities to attract students in the next and subsequent
Professor Jones: What research
has been done in this area would suggest that there is not really
a problem in the way in which Welsh universities are perceived
by potential students from England. It is very difficult to get
a handle on whether there is an issue or not. Certainly one of
the things that would attract more students would be perhaps a
higher level of capital expenditure so that when students do visit
universities in Wales they do see the same level of accommodation
and quality of buildings and so on that they would find on an
Q764 Alun Michael: And you are suggesting
that they do not?
Professor Jones: I am suggesting
that it is beginning to look like that.
Q765 Alun Michael: What about things
like maintenance and finance available to students directly?
Professor Jones: That is the way
of course that universities are coping with under-funding, by
not investing as much because you cannot not invest in staff and
salaries and pension costs and so on. What you can save on is
investment on buildings.
Ms Wilkinson: Certainly if one
looks at national early student survey data, Welsh institutions
still score extremely highly in terms of student satisfaction,
but if you look at some of the key indicators, then clearly views
about the learning and teaching infrastructure in Wales are somewhat
lower than they are elsewhere. I think that is a major concern
for us, particularly if we are looking to the future; it is not
just what happens now but it is the demographic predictions which
are also key to us, which will make attracting students from England
and elsewhere much more important to us over the next five years
Q766 Alun Michael: It would probably
be useful to have any supplementary detailed information that
you can provide for us, both now and subsequently. I am sure we
would be interested. My final question: obviously skills are enormously
important to the Welsh economy and to the future of individual
students. Should Wales be adopting the Leitch adult skills targets,
bearing in mind the old device that "what don't get measured
don't get done"?
Professor Jones: It is my belief
very strongly that Wales needs to be ambitious in terms of the
skills base that we have. It seems to me that the Leitch position
is very clearand it is a Leitch assessment for the United
Kingdom but up to each administration how they respond to itthat
the needs assessment of the United Kingdom is a very high percentage
of people at level 4, which is graduate level, in the workforce
by 2020. Certainly, as much as a citizen as somebody involved
in higher education, I would be very disappointed if the percentage
of graduates in Wales was significantly lower than in England.
It is at present marginally lower and significantly lower than
Scotland, but clearly, if we are to survive in the innovation
and knowledge economy of the future, we must have people with
higher level skills.
Q767 Alun Michael: So that is a "yes"
Professor Jones: It is a "yes".
Ms Wilkinson: That would be a
"yes". Our policy is that we should be pursuing the
Leitch target of 40%. We cannot run an economic policy that is
about creating a knowledge-driven economy in Wales and not look
at how we are supplying that economy with graduates. If we are
going to be competitive, because we will need to be competitive
in attracting those businesses, then we need good availability
of properly qualified individuals.
Chairman: I was very impressed with the
evidence given by Corus to the Welsh Assembly Education Committee
recently. I think they were exploring the relationships with major
international companies like Corus.
Q768 Mr David Jones: Just reverting
to the issue of attracting students from the rest of the UK, would
you say that overall the Welsh Assembly Government's policy on
tuition fees has proven beneficial or otherwise?
Ms Wilkinson: I think it hard
to say. It is clearly going to be appropriate at some point that
that policy is reviewed, particularly because obviously it is
a universal policy and one would want to look at whether or not
that has been worthwhile expenditure and whether one would want
to look at more targeted expenditure, for example. One would also
want to consider issues such as obviously the need to fund EU
students coming to Wales from that particular fund. There has
been some slight increase in the numbers of Welsh students choosing
to study in Wales, but it is not a huge increase. I would not
say there was a clear indication that Welsh institutions are more
attractive to Welsh-domiciled students as a result of the arrangements
that have been put in place.
Q769 Mr David Jones: What are your
views as to what might happen if that policy continues? Do you
think that there is a danger that it will result in an under-funding
of universities and the things that you have been talking aboutcapital
expenditure and so on?
Ms Wilkinson: We need to be clear.
From our point of view, the Welsh Assembly Government can run
a policy to support students, but what we need to ensure at the
same time is that we are also providing the right and the same
quality of higher education. Quite clearly, we have concerns that
our own funding needs need to be met, irrespective of whatever
decision is made in respect of support to students.
Q770 Mr David Jones: Have you received
any reassurance over that from the Welsh Assembly Government?
Ms Wilkinson: Any reassurance
about our funding?
Q771 Mr David Jones: Yes, if the
policy is maintained?
Ms Wilkinson: As Professor Jones
mentioned at the beginning of our evidence, he is shortly to chair
a review of higher education in Wales, which will, I hope, also
look at our funding situation. I think we have to wait and see
what the outcome of that particular review is to see whether or
not our funding needs can and will be addressed.
Q772 Chairman: Could I thank you
for the evidence you have given us today and also for the various
memoranda you have provided earlier. It has all been extremely
helpful to us in this inquiry. We look forward to receiving a
memorandum from you. You offered to give us some information that
Alun Michael requested.
Ms Wilkinson: That is in relation
to student flows and future student trends.