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Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 14.06.36MORE THAN 100 prospective European students have withdrawn applications to study at a Welsh university following the European referendum result.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“Over 100 European students have withdrawn their applications to us at this point, 50 by the end of Friday on Brexit day.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

UWTSD undergoes digital transformation

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THE MOVE to home working and online delivery means innovative thinking has been a key driver for a digital transformation at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

The University has recently set out a new direction of travel and embraced the opportunity to review its current academic offer and design a suite of modules across its portfolio which aim to develop students’ skills and competencies, as part of a Graduate Attributes Framework.

In the future, the University’s courses will be prepared in such a way that the delivery experience will accommodate traditional campus-based learning and online delivery for a blended learning approach.
“At every level of a university degree, some modules will only be offered through online learning and the content of our degrees will reflect the reality of the employment challenges our students will face, particularly post Covid”, says James Cale, Director of Digital Services at the University who is also leading the University’s Estates and Infrastructure Task Group, as part of its Post-Covid Transition Group.

“Whilst the safety and well-being of all our students and staff is our highest priority, we are of course also fully committed to providing our students with the highest quality study and social experience that we can.

“We have made a commitment to all our students that, through our blended learning provision, they will be able to receive face-to-face teaching on campus whenever it is safe and possible, and both asynchronous (learning the same content at different times) and synchronous (learning at same time) online teaching delivered to those students off campus, will continue to be available where possible.”
The University knows that access to academic staff is important to UWTSD’s students and that personal attention from staff is among the many reasons why the University has been voted 1st in the UK for the second year in succession for its Courses and Lecturers in the What Uni Student Choice Awards and is 1st in Wales for its learning community in the 2020 National Student Survey.

“That personal attention can also be provided through both on-campus and online via solutions such as Microsoft Teams” says James. “We will provide regular contact time opportunities both with tutors and fellow students”.

“We know that some students have concerns about online delivery of learning”, James continues. “But providing online alternatives to lectures does not mean that students will miss out on the in-person university experience and research shows that blended learning can offer more flexibility and better learner outcomes”.

Larger group teaching will be delivered digitally if necessary and where online delivery is not possible, the University will make sure these are accessible to all either by recording or streaming them.
Online teaching sessions will give students the chance to follow up and post questions online in discussion spaces and where academic staff will post answers and further explanations. This is a long-term approach that will enable the University to provide increased accessibility, flexibility, and equity.
The University has also been actively working on appropriate solutions as some students have limited access to devices when off-campus and some are in areas with limited or no broadband provision.

Working through its Student Services team, the University has invested in its bursary funding to provide support for those that need it in the form of Microsoft Surface Go devices, financial support for connectivity and access to resources for Welsh Government grant funding for areas with poor broadband connectivity.

Professor Dylan Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor concluded: “The strength of UWTSD is the diversity of our students and we aim to provide the very best educational environment for each individual to reach their potential. Our recent campus developments have emphasised small group and practice–based teaching, integrating physical and virtual study spaces for maximum impact. The pandemic has accelerated this approach, but the direction of travel was already determined as we seek to prepare our graduates for a constantly changing workplace in which the utilisation of technology plays a central role.”

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Education

Virtual graduation for Class of 2020

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UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.

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Education

BAME advisor appointed to education post

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PROFESSOR Charlotte Williams OBE has been appointed by the Welsh Government to lead a new working group to advise on and improve the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.
Professor Williams accepted an invitation from the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to chair the new ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group.
In 2007, Professor Williams was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to ethnic minorities and equal opportunities in Wales.
Professor Williams said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be leading the working group in advancing this step-change towards integrating Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into the everyday learning of every child in Wales. The goal is that the new curriculum will become a shining example of resourcing and enabling broad engagement in learning and teaching with BAME contributions past and present.
“The challenge is to ensure that Black and minority ethnic peoples have a presence across the new Welsh curriculum so that within all of the Areas of Learning and Experience we can hear the sound of their voices, know of their experience, history and contributions, past and present.
“This requires appropriate resourcing because we want all teachers in Wales to be able to rethink their materials and feel confident in the ways of delivering them to reflect this presence. It’s a very exciting prospect. In this way, our curriculum in Wales will ultimately be reflective of our common experience of a vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society.
“We have a rich history in Wales, built on difference and diversity.
“This isn’t about adding an element of Black and minority ethnic history here and there in the new curriculum, but about reimagining learning and teaching across all the elements of the curriculum so that it reflects a Wales that is, and always has been, ethnically diverse, internationalist in its outlook and progressive in its aspirations.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Our diversity is one of our strengths as a nation and our many histories have combined to shape Wales today.
“I’m delighted Professor Williams will be leading this important piece of work and I look forward to seeing the group’s recommendations.
“The working group will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. The group will also review associated professional learning opportunities and resources. The group will be closely aligned to the review of Welsh history by Estyn, the education inspectorate.
“The Welsh word ‘cynefin’ loosely translates as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, but also conveys a sense that all human interactions are strongly influenced and determined by both personal and collective experiences, such as through stories or music.”
The group will present their initial findings in the autumn, and a full report in the spring.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I’m very pleased Professor Williams has agreed to chair the working group.
“I look forward to receiving the group’s recommendations on learning resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities.
“Wales is made up of a multitude of stories. We must understand and analyse our own cynefin, and make those connections across our communities, nation and the world. It isn’t just about history as a subject, it’s language, literature, geography, and so much more.”
The group will oversee the development of new learning resources in advance of the phased introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.

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