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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Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 14.06.36MORE THAN 100 prospective European students have withdrawn applications to study at a Welsh university following the European referendum result.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“Over 100 European students have withdrawn their applications to us at this point, 50 by the end of Friday on Brexit day.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

Local students shine at skills competition

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KATIE WAITE and Ben Thomas, from Pembrokeshire and Llanelli, have won a gold medal in the photography and coaching final of a national skills competition.

Backed by the Welsh Government through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales is a series of events held in colleges across the country, designed to celebrate vocational skills and create highly skilled, talented employees for the Welsh workforce.

Katie, 18, who is studying foundation art, competed against 18 other students from across Wales in a photography challenge. The competitors were tasked with creating photography that focused on the theme discovering Wales.

Katie said: “I am over the moon to have won the photography competition.

“’Discovering Wales’ was the theme of the competition and we had to base our photography around the great outdoors, adventure and culture.

“I focused on the cultural aspect of the brief by looking at how the landscape of Wales reflects its culture.

“It was fascinating to see other people’s work at the competition and see how different people can interpret a brief and show their creativity in other aspects.

“I love photography as it can capture a moment in a unique way and shows another way of seeing things.”

Ben, 21, who is studying level two fitness instructing, competed against 17 other students from across Wales in a series of coaching challenges in within one hour. The competitors were tasked with coaching a one on one strength training session, warm up and circuit session.

Ben said: “Competing in the coach competition was a big success for me that has brought me closer to achieving my goal in making a real difference to people.

“Last year I was struggling with both my physical and mental health and turned to fitness. I got a personal trainer, Zak Hearne, who helped me lose three stone in three months which had a hugely positive impact on my mental health.

“Being able to make the same difference with other people is something I want to achieve in the future through personal training.

“For me, it’s all about pushing people to achieve great things and showing people that they can do anything if they put their mind to it and aim high.”

More than 40 competitions are taking place this year, across a wide range of different vocations from forensic science and fashion technology to 3D game and food preparation.

Those who are successful may then go on to be shortlisted for the UK Squad, competing against the world’s most talented young people at the WorldSkills international final in Shanghai, China in 2021.

Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates said: “Skills Competition Wales is such an important event, allowing multi-talented young people the length and breadth of Wales to put their skills to the test, building on their excellence and experiences across various fields with the opportunity to then progress and compete at UK national and international level.

“It’s also an opportunity to show the breadth of talent we have here in Wales and to celebrate the Welsh companies who are nurturing and reaping the rewards of such highly skilled, talented employees. Ensuring Wales has the skills needed for economic success has long been a priority for me personally and for the Welsh Government more broadly and it’s fantastic to see skills acknowledged in this way.

“I would like to say well done to everyone who has competed this year and add my congratulations to Katie and Ben on their brilliant achievement. Best of luck to them in the next stage of the competition and I look forward to seeing them prosper in their future careers.”

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Education

Vocational qualifications importance emphasised

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THE IMPORTANCE of vocational qualifications to the Welsh economy was emphasised at the launch of this year’s VQ Awards in Wales at the Senedd in Cardiff.

Speakers called for vocational qualifications to have parity of esteem with academic qualifications and for the Welsh Government to continue prioritising investment in the sector.

Iestyn Davies, chief executive of ColegauCymru/CollegesWales, said Wales was one of the remaining parts of the world where there had been a reluctance to recognise the value of vocational qualifications.

Academic qualifications had hogged the limelight when young people were considering a career path. However, he believed a significant change was underway with politicians now accepting the key importance of vocational qualifications to the economy of Wales.

He called on the people assembled at the launch event to spread the word about the success of vocational qualifications and lifelong learning in Wales to ensure that the Welsh Government continued to prioritise investment in the sector.

Vikki Howells, AM for Cynon Valley, who sponsored the launch event, said during her 16-year teaching career she had wished that there was a greater vocational offer for her students.

There remained a challenge to make young people and their parents, who played a crucial role in directing their children, embrace everything that vocational qualifications had to offer.

She praised the Welsh Government for the work it had already done and continued to do to promote vocational qualifications.

The VQ Awards are jointly organised by the Welsh Government, the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), ColegauCymru/CollegesWales, Qualifications Wales and the Education Workforce Council. The Welsh Government’s funding has support from the European Social Fund.

The Education Workforce Council’s chair Angela Jardine said it was exciting to be a new partner in the high-profile awards which celebrated the success and high standards achieved in vocational education to create the Wales of the future.

By maintaining a Register of Education Practitioners, the council aimed to contribute to improving the standards of teaching and the quality of learning in Wales. The register would provide the professional evidence to achieve parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications, she added.

Sarah John, chair of the NTfW, said: “The VQ Awards provide a great opportunity for learners, employers and their trainers to celebrate and publicise the positive impact that vocational qualifications have on the lives of individuals and the productivity of businesses in Wales. Upskilling in the changing vocational skills needed by businesses to be competitive is critical as they continue to evolve.”

Cassy Taylor, Associate Director for Vocational Qualifications with Qualifications Wales, said: “Vocational qualifications are the gateway to a rewarding career and we are delighted to be sponsoring the VQ Awards again this year.

“The awards are a perfect way to showcase the talent of learners and the commitment of tutors and employers to develop the skills in our workforce that are the bedrock of the economy.”

Stacey Davies, Human Resources Manager at Gestamp Tallent Ltd, an automotive manufacturer from Llanelli, spoke about the company winning the VQ Employer of the Year Award last year.

“Winning this prestigious award was an immensely proud moment for the plant,” she said. “To be recognised for the early accomplishments of an ambitious but exciting learning and development strategy continues to be very encouraging for all the stakeholders.”

Vocational qualifications play a key role in the Gestamp Tallent Growth Programme, which aims to upskill the entire workforce by creating tailor-made, individual development plans, revamping an apprenticeship programme and introducing leadership and management solutions and a programme for high potential employees.

The VQ Awards are designed to recognise and celebrate star learners, trainers and employers in every part of Wales who have used technical, practical and vocational qualifications to achieve success.

Nominations are now sought in four categories: VQ Intermediate Learner of the Year, VQ Higher Learner of the Year, VQ Trainer of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. It’s easy to enter the awards. Just download a nomination form at https://www.vqday.wales which has full details about the awards. The closing date is noon on March 8.

From the entries, a panel of judges will select the category finalists for a high-profile awards ceremony to be held at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff on May 15 to coincide with VQ Day.

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Education

Big leap in part-time students

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THERE has been a massive 35% increase in part-time undergraduates from Wales, thanks to the Welsh Government’s radical new student support package.

The statistics report on the new student support system for the first time, also showing a 58% increase in the number of postgraduates supported. Welsh post-grads were eligible for dedicated bursaries and support from Welsh universities this year, thanks to Welsh Government funding. Means-tested grants and loans will be introduced from September.

There is no Government-backed living costs grant funding for part-time undergraduates or post-graduate students elsewhere in the UK. Last year, the Education Minister set a goal of a 10% increase in the number of Welsh post-graduate students by the end of this Government’s term.

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “This is fantastic news and a real vote of confidence in our student support package, the first of its kind in the UK or Europe.

“We have always said that high living costs are the main barrier for students when thinking about university. Our package of support was specifically designed to address these concerns, making it easier for people to study part-time, especially if they have work or family commitments.

“Our radical approach to supporting part-time study is essential to improving social mobility, employment outcomes, access to the professions and delivering on our commitment to lifelong learning.”

Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales, said: “The OU in Wales saw a 49% increase in our October student recruitment last year. This represents hundreds of more people embarking on learning that will transform the lives of their families and communities. We’ve had a 67% increase in students from Wales’ most economically disadvantaged areas, a 57% increase in disabled students and a 30% increase in BME learners.

“I am pleased the Welsh Government is highlighting the impact the new funding system is having on part-time study in Wales. With maintenance grants now available for part-time distance learners as well, flexible study has never been more affordable. This is helping The OU in Wales make studying for a degree a reality for those who may not have considered it in the past.”

Julie Lydon, Chair of Universities Wales, said: “We are delighted to see this increase in the number of students choosing to study part-time in Wales, clearly demonstrating that the new student support and higher education funding package in Wales is working.

“In the coming decade, Wales will face many challenges from the changing workplace and advancements in technology. These changes will mean that Wales will need a more highly skilled workforce.
Flexible learning, such as part-time study, will play a key role in preparing the people, places and businesses of Wales for the future.

“This increase in part-time and postgraduate study shows that, with the new student support and higher education funding package in Wales, we are on the right path to providing people of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to benefit from higher education.”

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