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Education

Brexit threat to Welsh universities

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Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 14.06.36MORE THAN 100 prospective European students have withdrawn applications to study at a Welsh university following the European referendum result. 

Professor John Grattan, acting Vice- Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, said about half of those pulled out the day after the Brexit vote.

“I won’t hide it from you that Brexit poses a challenge to the university,” Prof Grattan told students during one of the graduation ceremonies this week.

“Over 100 European students have withdrawn their applications to us at this point, 50 by the end of Friday on Brexit day.

“That’s a stunning impact on our finances. There are 120,000 European students at British universities.”

The BBC has reported that Prof Grattan’s concerns do not exist in isolation, and that other Welsh Universities are also concerned about both the short -term and long -term effects on their finances.

THE CHALLENGE OF BREXIT 

‘Leaving the EU will create significant challenges for Welsh universities’. Whether one considers that comment, made by Wales’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, as unnecessary doom-mongering or a significant understatement of the size of the problems ahead, the decision to leave the EU will have a significant impact on the Welsh higher education sector.

The reliance of some institutions and some courses on relatively significant numbers of EU students to ensure viability of provision could cause considerable pressure on the already-squeezed budgets of higher education institutions.

While leaving the EU will not happen overnight – to the apparent amazement of some Brexit supporters – there will be a gradual exit process and it is that process which presents Welsh Universities with the best chance to ensure that they do not lose out as the tide of EU students studying in the UK reduces – as it surely will – and the opportunities available to Welsh students to study in the EU recede.

The EU referendum outcome will not lead to any immediate change to the immigration status of current EU students or those about to start a course in the coming academic year (2016–17). This has been confirmed in a statement from Jo Johnson, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science.

Ms Johnson said: “EU and international students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and our European neighbours are among some of our closest research partners.

“There are obviously big discussions to be had with our European partners, and I look forward to working with the sector to ensure its voice is fully represented and that it continues to go from strength to strength.”

However, the longer term implications for EU students who want to apply to study in the UK (ie from 2017–18 onwards) will depend on the outcome of negotiations and what kind of relationship the UK agrees with the EU.

An immediate priority for Welsh universities is to urge the government to take steps to ensure students from EU countries can continue to study at UK universities on the same terms after the UK leaves the European Union and beyond.

‘EU STAFF VITAL’ 

Kirsty Williams has sought to address concerns raised in the aftermath of the referendum: “There is no escaping that the recent referendum has unleashed uncertainty and worry. In some cases, it may have roused the spectre of racial tensions. I want to send a message loud and clear that students and staff from across the European Union are still welcome at Welsh Universities. Those already studying here, and those who are planning to come, are still welcome – our places of learning are still there for you.

“Welsh universities will continue to recruit and teach students from across the world. The long, proud tradition of European students coming to Wales has helped us foster our relationship with many countries. There are thousands of people who have a special place for Wales in their hearts after studying here. Our country will remain a tolerant, accepting and safe place where people from any nation can pursue their academic ambitions. Let me be clear, we will not tolerate any form of racial abuse whether on our campuses or within the wider communities in which we are rooted.

“Let’s not forget EU staff are vital to the operation of our universities. We attract some of the best minds from across Europe to teach here and importantly carry out research that will benefit the people of Wales, from developing life-saving medicines to clean energy. This will not and must not change. Our universities are central to our social and economic future and they thrive through the diversity of the people who come to them.

“The Welsh Government is determined to protect Wales’ reputation as a friendly and tolerant place to study and carry out world-class research. Whatever the long-term implication of the vote, we remain an outward looking and welcoming nation where we are committed to sharing knowledge across national borders.”

STUDENT FINANCE 

EU students attending universities in England and Wales who are eligible under current rules to receive loans and grants from the Student Loans Company will continue to do so for the duration of courses they are currently enrolled on, or are about to start this coming year. This has been confirmed by the Student Loans Company for England, and by Universities Wales for Wales.

Under EU law, students from EU member states applying for undergraduate degrees at Scottish universities are currently eligible for free tuition. For EU students attending a university in Scotland, the Scottish Government and Universities Scotland have confirmed that there has been no change in current funding arrangements and that eligible EU students already studying in Scotland or commencing their studies in the coming months will continue to benefit from free tuition and, for those who meet the residency requirement, associated living cost support.

EU nationals or their family members, currently in higher education, and who are assessed as eligible to receive loans and/or grants from SFW, will continue to receive these loans and grants until they finish their course. This applies to all student finance from SFW for students in Wales for which EU nationals are eligible. This includes grants and loans to cover tuition fees (for those resident in the EEA for three years), loans and grants for maintenance (limited to those resident in the UK for at least three years), and some other grants and allowances.

The rules applying to EU nationals, or their family members, who have applied for a place at university from this August to study a course which attracts student support are unchanged. SFW will assess these applications against existing eligibility criteria, and will provide loans and/or grants in the normal way. EU nationals, or their family members, who are assessed as eligible to receive grants and/ or loans by the SLC will then be eligible for the duration of their study on that course.

RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES THREATENED 

While there will be no immediate change to the UK university sector’s ability to participate in EU research and innovation programmes, such as Horizon 2020, the long term future of UK participation in European science programmes will be decided as part of the UK’s exit negotiations. These talks are expected to take up to two years. The UK will remain an EU member during this time and as such will be entitled to participate in EU programmes and apply for EU research grants.

After that point, the situation is uncertain. Although Universities UK is committed to making sure that the UK government takes steps to ensure that the UK can continue to participate in EU research collaboration and funding programmes after the UK formally leaves the European Union, the UK will be reliant upon either the goodwill or self-interest of its former EU partners. What it will be keen to avoid is the sort of relationship Canada has with the EU where it gets to participate in research but not have access to all of that research’s results.

The issue of research funding was raised during the Brexit campaign, but nobody on either side of the referendum debate appears to have given the matter any real thought or made any real preparations for the consequences of Brexit upon Britain’s research sector.

STAFFING 

The UK government has confirmed that there has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK as a result of the referendum, and that it ‘recognises and values the important contribution made by EU and other non-UK citizens who work, study and live in the UK’.

The UK remains a member of the EU for the time being and the government has confirmed that there will be no immediate changes to UK visa policies for university staff currently in, or contemplating coming to, the UK from the EU.

In terms of recruiting EU staff in the longer term, any changes will depend on the kind of relationship the UK negotiates with the EU. Universities UK (UUK) is urging the UK government to guarantee that those currently working at UK universities can continue to do so in the long term. UUK is also calling on the UK government to make a clear and unequivocal statement that any changes to immigration status will only apply to new entrants to the UK.

However, as long as the UK remains a member of the EU – that is until the end of the Article 50 process intended to manage the UK’s withdrawal – there is likely to be stasis on the issue and accompanying uncertainty.

UK STUDENTS IN THE EU 

While EU students are a source of finance to UK Universities, small numbers of UK students elect to attend European universities, some because tuition fees are lower in some high quality institutions in Europe than they are (regardless of the quality of the teaching) in almost every UK higher education provider. In addition, UK students enjoy access to European Universities as part of academic exchanges as part of their courses and the Erasmus+ programme.

The Erasmus+ Programme is a European funding programme established in 1987, offering university students the possibility of studying or doing an internship abroad in another country for a period of at least two months and maximum 12 months per cycle of studies. After completing a first year of studies any student can benefit from the Erasmus+ studies and Erasmus+ placement programmes. Each student receives a grant which covers partly the costs of the stay abroad. Grants differ from sending and host countries. The grant can often be complemented by regional or national grants.

Students from UK universities currently overseas on an Erasmus+ placement, and those considering applying to participate in Erasmus+ next year (2016-17), will not be affected by the referendum result. The European Commission has confirmed that EU law continues to apply to the full in the United Kingdom until it is no longer a member. This therefore also applies to the projects financed through the Erasmus+ programme.

In the longer term, Universities UK will be urging the government to seek assurances from the EU that the UK can continue to access this valuable exchange programme. However, there are no guarantees and whether the issue will even figure as anything but a footnote in the Brexit negotiations remains to be seen.

Back to Kirsty Williams who, speaking at a graduation event at Swansea University on July 14, remarked: “Our universities are central to our social and economic future and they thrive through the diversity of the people who come to them.

“The Welsh Government is determined to protect Wales’ reputation as a friendly and tolerant place to study and carry out world-class research. Whatever the long-term implication of the vote, we remain an outward looking and welcoming nation where we are committed to sharing knowledge across national borders.”

Whether those fine words convert into educational reality is, however, very much out of the Welsh Government’s hands.

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Education

Inspirational Rose praises adult learning

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Rose Probert: Campaign ambassador for Adult Learners' Week

A SINGLE mum of gypsy traveller descent from Pembroke is supporting Adult Learners’ Week after adult education helped her achieve her dream of working with special needs children.

Rose Probert, 41, helped care for her disabled brother from a young age. She dreamed of becoming a special needs teacher, but learning wasn’t a priority in her community and she left school without any grade C or above GCSEs.

For years, Rose worked as a cleaner while also caring for her brother and bringing up her daughter, but when she was employed as a Gypsy Support Officer at Pembroke School she had the opportunity to restart her education and completed a Level 3 Award for Teaching Assistants.

From there, Rose completed GCSEs in English and Maths, achieving B and C grades, and a Foundation Degree in Education and Social Inclusion, studying for an extra year to graduate with a BA First Class honours degree. In September 2017, Rose completed a postgraduate course in special needs, gaining a distinction, and this year she plans to begin a Masters in mental health and wellbeing.

Rose is supporting Adult Learners’ Week 2018, which takes place from 18-24 June to highlight opportunities to continue developing and learning new skills as an adult and celebrate the positive impact of adult education on skills and employability.

Rose said: “Growing up with caring responsibilities in a traveller community made it difficult for me to achieve at school; my caring responsibilities took up a lot of my time and learning was always put on the backburner. When I was younger I didn’t have the maturity or self-belief I have now, for me that’s something that came with age, but as my daughter grew older I wanted her to see how important education is. Initially, I said yes to the opportunity to learn again to set an example to her.

“That first teaching assistant course opened my eyes. I didn’t know anything about adult education, I thought I’d missed my chance to learn and I’d given up on my dream of ever becoming a special needs teacher. Suddenly I realised there were opportunities open to me and my dream was still possible. It took several courses, and a lot of hard work, but completing my postgraduate certificate granted me permission to finally work in special needs. Words can’t express how proud I am of what I’ve achieved or how far I’ve come in just a few years.”

In 2016, Rose received an Inspire! Award for progression. She’s now employed full time as an Access to Learning Manager for Additional Learning Needs children.

Rose continued: “I work at Pembroke Comprehensive School – the same secondary school I attended. It’s in quite a socially deprived area with a large proportion of pupils on free school meals and a high number of children with special educational needs. I’m in charge of a class of 70 pupils, teaching between six and 12 at any one time. The work is everything I hoped it would be, I know I’m doing something which makes a difference to the lives of other people.

“I’ve had some fantastic support along the way. The partnership between Monkton school Pembroke and Trinity St David’s University got me on my first course, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. My current employer Pembroke Comprehensive School is also extremely supportive and helped with gathering information for my postgraduate work.

“I can’t wait to start my Masters in Mental Health and Wellbeing in September, it’s a subject I’m really interested in and passionate about. A lot of my pupils display signs of mental health issues, so the course will help in my day-to-day work, but I’m also just looking forward to learning again. Education gave me the drive to carry on, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”

Adult Learners’ Week 2018 is running from 18-24 June and celebrates lifelong learning, whether work-based, as part of a community education course, at college, university or online. Now in its 27th year, it aims to promote the range of courses available to adult learners, from languages to computing or childcare to finance.

Eluned Morgan, Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, said: “We often think of education as something we do when we’re young, but learning is a lifelong activity.

“Rose is a perfect example of someone who has benefited from the opportunity to go back into education as an adult. Adult learning has been linked to improvements in health, overall wellbeing and social engagement. We want to ensure every person in Wales has access to the skills they need to help our communities thrive.

“Skills are vital to our economy and we want to support adults to gain the ones they need to find, or progress in, their chosen career. We hope Adult Learners’ Week will inspire people of all ages across Wales to find out more about how they can develop their skills. Skills Gateway for Adults also offers a range of careers advice and guidance for anyone looking to improve their skills and employability or get back into work.”

David Hagendyk, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said: “Going back into education has enormous benefits for adults. The evidence shows that it can improve your health, family life, the chance of a job, or a promotion at work. Taking that first step back into adult education might seem a little daunting at first but there is always someone to lend a helping hand and to support you along the way.

“Adult Learners’ Week has been running in Wales for 27 years and has helped hundreds of thousands of adults right across the country. It’s a great time to take the plunge to learn a new skill, meet new people and learn about something you have always been passionate about. With the world changing so quickly around us it is more important than ever that all of us are learning throughout our lives. Now is the perfect time to start.”

Adult Learners’ Week is funded by The Welsh Government and the European Social Fund and organised by the Learning & Work Institute Wales.

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Education

Welsh Youth Parliament launches

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Llywydd Elin Jones: Youth Parliament 'a significant development'

THE COUNTDOWN is underway to the establishment of a new Welsh Youth Parliament to reflect and represent the voices and opinions of young people in Wales.

During Plenary at the Senedd on Wednesday, May 23, the Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, Elin Jones AM, announced the voter registration drive for the inaugural election would start yesterday, Thursday, May 31.

There will be 60 Welsh Youth Parliament Members. 40 of which will be elected via First Past the Post through an electronic voting system in each of the 40 electoral constituencies in Wales. 20 will be returned by partner organisations to ensure the representation of diverse groups of young people.

All young people in Wales, between the ages of 11 and up to 18, can take part by registering to vote in the online election which will be over three weeks in November 2018.

The very first meeting of the Welsh Youth Parliament will be held in February 2019.

Elin Jones AM said: “As a nation committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, implementing such an ambitious project is a significant development for Wales and it is our privilege as a National Parliament to deliver this commitment.

“Article 12 of that Convention of the Rights of the Child sets out the right of children and young people to express an opinion and to have that opinion taken into account when decisions are being made on any matter that affects them.

“In the context of our work as a legislature, establishing the Youth Parliament ensures that we are discharging out duties to the voters of today and tomorrow – to each and every citizen in Wales – all of whom have a stake in our democracy.”

The National Assembly Commission agreed to establish a youth parliament in September 2017 following an extensive consultation with more than 5,000 young people around Wales.

The National Assembly has also worked closely with a steering group of youth organisations providing expert guidance and, critically, views from the point of view of young people which contributed to the shaping of the new Welsh Youth Parliament.

The formal launch of the voter registration drive will take place at the Urdd Eisteddfod at the Royal Welsh Showground in Llanelwedd where more details of how to register as a candidate or as a partner organisation will be released.

The Assembly’s youth outreach and education team will hold a series of workshops, school and colleges visits, train the trainer sessions and provide resources for organisations to hold their own events. More information will be available on the Welsh Youth Parliament website.

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Education

Children to learn food’s origins

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Hybu Cig Cymru: Family Fun on June 10

CHILDREN’S lack of knowledge about where their food comes from is an in increasingly hot topic. A recent British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) survey found that a quarter of primary school children thought that cheese came from plants, while 13% thought that pasta came from an animal.

Welsh red meat body Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is doing its bit during the spring to address this lack of knowledge.

Earlier this month, HCC cook Elwen Roberts joined the innovative ‘Cows on Tour’ team at Marshfield Primary School near Newport. Cows on Tour is a programme in which children get the chance to meet farmers, interact with animals, and learn interactively where meat and dairy products come from.

Also, on June 10, HCC will also be involved with a major ‘Open Farm Sunday’ event in Pembrokeshire. In partnership with Blas y Tir, the National Trust, the Scarlets rugby region and the Farms for City Children charity, HCC will be serving samples of nutritious meals with PGI Welsh Lamb and PGI Welsh Beef and organising children’s activities, as part of a day of family fun at Lower Treginnis Farm near St. David’s.

Prior to the event, children in Pembrokeshire are being encouraged to design a healthy school dinner menu, with prizes being announced at Open Farm Sunday.

“HCC is proud to join with our partners to help children gain a better understanding of where their food comes from, and how to eat a healthy and balanced diet,” said HCC’s Elwen Roberts.

“At Newport, we helped the Cows on Tour team by preparing samples of Welsh Beef pasta with fresh vegetables for the children,” she said, “as well as a barbecue for the parents in the evening.”

Elwen added, “We’re looking forward greatly to taking part in activities around Open Farm Sunday on June 10 in Pembrokeshire with Blas y Tir and Farms for City Children. It’ll be exciting to be part of the ‘Healthy Living Zone’ at Lower Treginnis with Scarlets rugby players. There’ll be plenty to do for children and adults alike.”

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