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Oral - Twenty-first Century Higher Education Plan

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Jane Hutt, Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills

I wish to make a statement on future policy on higher education in Wales. In June, in response to Professor Merfyn Jones’s review, I set a clear direction of travel for higher education based on the two fundamental ‘One Wales’ commitments: achieving social justice and supporting a buoyant economy. Today, I am signalling the start of radical change in our higher education system in Wales. We intend to work with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and higher education providers to significantly remodel higher education provision, while enhancing that which is already strong and internationally outstanding. In doing so, we have looked carefully at Professor Jones’s recommendations and, above all, recognised the need for substantial and far-reaching action.


In future, a greater proportion of the £400 million-plus funding provided annually to higher education providers in Wales will be targeted at the delivery of specific strategic outcomes to enrich the economic and cultural life of Wales, and to drive our economy forward. I intend to create an HE system that is fit to meet the needs of Wales in the twenty-first century; one that is made up of different providers with different strengths and missions, but which works coherently to deliver an outstanding HE experience; one that is able to compete more effectively internationally; one which helps to meet the economic aspirations and employment needs of the people and communities of Wales, and by so doing enhances the prosperity of every citizen. 


I intend to see higher education being opened up to many more people through significantly greater diversity and flexibility in programme design, duration and delivery, including more part-time, short, and credit-based learning experiences. Providers will be expected to plan and deliver many aspects of higher education through national and regional partnerships, through funding targeted at eliminating wasteful local competition, better matching local needs and demand, and building better opportunities to widen access and improve progression to higher education. This approach follows the example set by the university heads of the Valleys initiative, which I announced in June, and which has already successfully recruited its first cohort of students. 


Such initiatives are vital to delivering a modern, productive, innovative and competitive Welsh workforce, to transforming the life chances of many more people in Wales, and for regenerating whole communities. I also intend to create much greater opportunity to study through the medium of Welsh. I am pleased to announce that the coleg ffederal shadow board will be formed early in 2010, with a view to it becoming fully operational in the academic year 2011-12. This represents a truly innovative, collaborative and independent approach to embedding and enhancing the status of the Welsh language in a way which reflects the model of higher education we wish to see in Wales.


In spring 2010, a national bursary framework will be launched, based on the principles of transparency and consistency across Wales. This will complement the action that I have already taken to remodel the statutory student support arrangements to target those in greatest need and to introduce innovative new measures to tackle student debt. In taking forward the national bursary framework I expect stakeholders to work together to address the issue of equity of outcomes for students and uphold the principle of supporting those with the most to gain but with the greatest need for support.


I intend that higher education will play a significantly greater role in equipping the Welsh workforce with the skills needed to innovate and compete. Graduates must be fully prepared for employment by their learning experience. In spring 2010, a new strategy for increasing the availability of foundation degrees in Wales will be announced, to boost the high-level skills of our workforce, by enabling a higher education qualification to be obtained within a shorter time, through collaboration between HE, FE and employers. As part of this strategy, I am pleased to announce that further education colleges now have the power to award their own foundation degrees, subject to meeting the rigorous criteria set by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.


Building on the Deputy First Minister’s economic renewal programme, we will target funding at strengthening business between higher education providers and employers, for workforce upskilling, research and development, student and graduate work placements, and consultancy advice. We will seek greater collaboration between universities and public and private sector employers in the generation and pursuit of joint research and knowledge transfer. We will target a greater proportion of funding to strengthen the postgraduate community in Wales, with part time and full-time opportunities of direct relevance to the Welsh economy. We are continuing to explore options for a graduate recruitment award, to encourage more graduates to seek higher skilled employment in Wales. 


Public funding for research will be prioritised to help Wales excel internationally in areas where it already demonstrates strength, again in collaboration, which we have seen developing through ‘Reaching Higher’. We will foster research that is in line with our national priorities, particularly in the fields of the digital economy, the low carbon economy, health and biosciences, advanced engineering and manufacturing, as well as key cross-cutting fields where Wales already demonstrates expertise and capacity.


Our strategy and plan for higher education in Wales, ‘For Our Future’, is available on the Welsh Assembly Government’s website. In proposing such far-reaching changes to how higher education in Wales is organised and focused, I remain fully committed to the partnership approach that has already taken us so far along the road we must continue to travel. Through a compact with the higher education community, we wish to plan and move forward in order to build a strong, culturally thriving, socially inclusive and prosperous Wales.