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

Examination of Witness (Questions 876-879)


8 JULY 2008

  Q876 Chairman: Good morning and welcome to the Welsh Affairs Committee. For the record, could you introduce yourself, please?

  Professor Diamond: I am Ian Diamond and I am Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council.

  Q877  Alun Michael: On a point of order, Mr Chairman, I believe it is correct to say that Professor Diamond is also Chair of the Research Council UK as distinct from an organisation called ECUK that appears in our papers. I make this point in pursuit of the banishment of acronyms and initials from the work of this Committee, despite the alphabet that we have had to be provided with an explanation of in this particular session.

  Professor Diamond: I am also Chair of the Executive Group of Research Councils UK, which is all Research Councils working together.

  Q878  Chairman: You are aware that this inquiry focuses very sharply on higher education and higher education research and in earlier evidence it has been identified that there is quite a serious funding gap or a lower proportion of research funding coming into the higher education sector in Wales. How do you explain that?

  Professor Diamond: There is variability between the seven Research Councils, I have to say that. Put very simply, all Research Council funding is allocated on the basis of excellence, which is allocated on the basis of a peer review process, which is accepted by all higher education institutions across the UK; we are UK bodies and simply have open competition to which all the Welsh institutions, as well institutions throughout the UK, can bid.

  Q879  Chairman: But by size Wales appears to be underperforming compared with, say, Scotland. Is that purely historical or is it historical plus what perhaps some people would say—and I am not necessarily saying it—a lack of aspiration or a lack of ambition?

  Professor Diamond: I cannot speak for aspirations or ambition; I am very conscious that the Welsh institutions are often contacting my Council to ask for advice on funding, so my own personal observation is that there is evidence of aspiration. I would have to say that competitively the Welsh institutions have in the past not been doing as well as those in some other parts of the UK. There are exceptions and I have to say it is really difficult to use the word "institution" because if you take, for example, an institution like Bangor, in my own Council, which as a whole has a relatively low percentage of funding, there are within Bangor real pockets of international excellence, particularly in psychology and linguistics, which mean that we have jointly with the Welsh Assembly recently funded a major centre on bilingualism there. So I think it is very difficult to say institutions because within institutions in Wales, which may not as an institution gain great funding, there are absolutely pockets of supreme international excellence.

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