Examination of Witnesses (Questions 980-991)|
15 JULY 2008
Q980 Mr David Jones: Mr Scott, clearly
you have concerns about the potential economic impact. Professor
Rees, what do you think are the potential implications for Wales
because the answer you gave was we would not start from here in
the first place; it is ongoing; what are your concerns about the
implications for Wales?
Professor Rees: Again, it is the
lack of a strategic framework that concerns me. We have to take
into account in devolution that the four countries are not of
the same size; it is this issue that one country, particularly
England, in making a decision has effects on the other countries
whether anybody intends it or not. If one does not take that into
accountand I think after 10 years we have seen enough examples
of thisthen in a sense how can the Welsh Assembly Government
plan for what might be the outcome? We do not know what the outcome
of these reviews may beit does not make any sense to me.
Q981 Mr David Jones: To what extent
are Welsh universities engaging with the Denham review?
Professor Rees: Through Higher
Education Wales we will be engaging, but there is a question to
what extent is one invited to the table. I am very concerned about
the particular review about lifting the fees cap, and what we
were hearing from the minister is of course the other countries
will be informed, but that is in a sense, in my understanding
of it, not enough, you need to do a scenario of if this happens
in England, what will be the effect on these other countries?
That needs to be factored into the decision-making.
Q982 Mr David Jones: I was just about
to ask you, what are your concerns about lifting the fee cap?
Professor Rees: If the fee cap
is lifted in England, which I personally think should happen because
the sector, not just in Wales, is under-fundedwe are expected
to be as competitive and leading edge as we are and provide mass
educationthen it will have very serious effects in Wales,
particularly as the Assembly has committed itself up to 2009-10
to providing this subsidy for Welsh domiciled students going to
Welsh institutions. I do not see how that can be sustained so
there would have to be a policy change on that, but that would
be a policy change brought about in response to what has happened
over the border rather than as the politicians and the Welsh Assembly
Government might see it, driven by what they think is best in
Q983 Mr David Jones: Is it fair to
say that the funding gap is likely to increase?
Professor Rees: Certainly. If
the cap is lifted in England and the situation in Wales remains
as the status quo well, frankly, that is pretty much the end of
higher education; why would you want to go to university in Wales
even if you get a subsidy when the investment is such that it
just cannot deliver the business.
Q984 Mr David Jones: Do you know
to what extent the Welsh Assembly Government is engaging with
the Denham review; are you aware of that?
Professor Rees: I am not aware
of that. I am sure there are communications there, there are bound
to be, between ministers and civil servants, but I think what
I have been trying to argue all along is that we need much more
proactive dialogue and planning between ministers and senior civil
servants on higher education across the UK. The absence of that
has already caused enormous difficulties and if we do not address
that it will be disastrous, frankly.
Professor Scott: I would agree
Q985 Chairman: It occurs to me that
without demeaning the relationship what you are describing is
a very serious situation and this occasional chat or this meeting
three or four times every year is not what you would aspire to,
a strategic framework.
Professor Rees: No. There is a
joint ministerial committee but my understanding is that for many
years it never met.
Professor Scott: Chairman, I would
fully support that. I was asked to a meeting with John Denham
last week; I thought it was a very valuable meeting but I was
the only person from Wales there and I certainly felt on the periphery
of it, even though they made me welcome and so on. The issues
really were not focused at all on Wales, they were focused on
England. Similarly, I had a breakfast meeting with Bill Rammell
and on that occasion again I was the only person from Wales, although
Deian Hopkin from South Bank was there. Again, it was very clear
that this was an English discussion.
Chairman: Mr Jones, have you finished?
Mr David Jones: I could go on, Chairman.
Chairman: We will try and round this
up now. There are a few more questions; Mr Alun Michael.
Q986 Alun Michael: This is one that
could open up and become very wide as well so can I suggest it
might be useful for some thoughts afterwards; it is really what
do you hope will come out of the recently announced Welsh Assembly
Government review of higher education in Wales? I suppose a secondary
question really is do you hope that it will look at higher education
in Wales in the wider context of the UK and beyond and not just
look at it traditionally in terms of the comparison between the
situation in Wales and England?
Professor Rees: Absolutely. We
are in an international market for students and for research funding;
they do not know barriers and national borders so I certainly
hope that will be the case.
Alun Michael: It is clear that there
is a parallel situation that is bound to be there between the
final stages of our cross-border inquiry and the work of that,
and the more synergy we can have between the two the better. May
I suggest that you could let us have a note about your hopes for
the outcomes of that which we can then take into account in our
Q987 Chairman: You began by making reference
to the fact that there should be consultation and I alluded to
your closing remarks in your memorandum which have been the theme
really of your evidence today, "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 for Wales, will
be highly detrimental." We posed the question to Higher Education
Wales and to HEFCW about the nature of the debate, the dialogue,
going on in Wales and now, clearly, across the United Kingdom.
It seems to me highly unsatisfactory; would you share that view?
Professor Scott: It is the lack
of a framework. There are conversations going on between different
bodiesUniversities UK addressed the issue of devolution
recently for about an hour in one of its meeting. I do not think
anybody quite knows what to do about it; it is one of those difficulties
where, because of a lack of an arena where people can sit down
and sort it out, it becomes a thing that one learns to live with
in a sense and gets increasingly worried about.
Q988 Chairman: It seems that the
priorities are somewhat askew. There is a stated science policy
in the Assembly without a budget line.
Professor Rees: Yes.
Q989 Chairman: And it does not relate
to the science policy of the UK Government?
Professor Rees: Yes, exactly.
Q990 Chairman: It seems that the
science policy was a knee-jerk reaction to a very strongly worded
memorandum led by Sir John Cadogan rather than a proper policy
debate within the Welsh Assembly Government.
Professor Rees: I absolutely agree
and I think again it is strange if the UK ends up with four or
even five science policies because, again, science does not know
national boundaries, it just does not work like that. I think
what the Welsh Assembly Government did was to look at its own
manifesto priorities and try and identify what science it would
need, what research it would need, to try to inform those policies,
and that is one way I guess of developing a science policy. In
a sense, however, you would not want to be restricted to just
choosing what research happened to go on in your backyard, you
would presumably take the best science from wherever it was to
inform that policy. Science policy is another area where there
is a lack of joined-up thinking and we could end up with something
that looked rather odd if we do not try to have a UK approach
as well as whatever priorities the devolved administrations and
England want to put on their own version of it.
Q991 Chairman: It seems to me that
Secretary of State Denham had a responsibility within his own
department to help lead the debate on a UK-wide strategy which
it appears he has failed to undertake.
Professor Rees: I do not know
whether he tried to undertake it and people did not respond, I
have no idea, but it does seem to me that there is a danger of
thinking, right, it is just England now.
Professor Scott: There is an issue,
Chairman, about devolution, if I may say so. I began by saying
that devolution is a very good thing and it has boosted the confidence
of the people of Wales. I believe that absolutely fully and I
think the country itself is trying to go forward. I do not think
that when devolution came about these sorts of issues that are
now coming to the surface were actually thought about within the
context of England and its relationship with the Government here
and its relationship with the Government in Wales or Scotland.
I do not think it was thought about and I think we are playing
catch-up a bit.
Chairman: Short of opening up that debate
no doubt the members of the new convention will be addressing
this matter very thoroughly. Could I thank you for your evidence
today? It has been a very comprehensive discussion but if there
is anything further that on reflection you wish to add to it,
in light of the open-ended questions at the end, please feel free
to write to us, we look forward to receiving anything you want
to add. Thank you very much.
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