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Education

Student finance ‘discriminates against women and mature students’

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Very friendly and supportive: Neil Hamilton

A WEST Wales mature student has alleged that Student Finance Wales discriminates against mature female students who have changed their name through marriage or divorce.

Tricia (not her real name) contacted The Herald after she experienced protracted delays in receiving student finance to which she was entitled having been made ‘to jump through hoops’ to prove she was who she said she was.

She encountered difficulties after applying for a one year top up from a HND to a BA.

The situation was rendered all the more frustrating as, Student Finance Wales had all of Tricia’s proof of identity from the previous year, when she completed her HND, access to all of the information submitted in connection with that award, and repeatedly told her that there was no information required from her before telling her on a number of occasions, and only when she rang to query the continuing delay, that further information was needed.

Tricia applied for student finance on June 14 and supporting information for her financial status was provided immediately to Student Finance Wales. Tricia had the same customer reference number, same email, same telephone contact number that she had used for her previous application.

Tricia was particularly exasperated as she had been through precisely the same rigmarole in proving her identity in her initial application two years before.

She told us: “Despite the fact that I applied early for student finance, after that earlier bad experience, I kept on being pushed from pillar to post. Even though ALL of my information was already held by Student Finance and they were writing to me at my home address, which I had already provided and proved, it was not until mid-August that Student Finance Wales asked for proof that I actually lived in Wales.

“Having sent that proof, I rang up to check everything was okay and was told that Student Finance Wales had all the information they needed to process my application.”

She continued: “Having waited for a few weeks and with the start of term already near, I rang to find out what was happening. I was then told that before my application could proceed that they wanted information for an application for a childcare grant, which I have never sought and had not asked for. I had to write a letter telling them this – unbelievably six weeks after acknowledging they had received that letter, the information is still shown as required.

“Anyway, I confirmed again that they now had all the material they needed. And was told they did. A few weeks passed and I had heard nothing. I rang again. This time they wanted me to provide both my birth certificate and a form signed by a third party confirming that I was me!

“I raised an immediate complaint and was told I would be sent a copy of that for my own information.”

On October 26, Tricia rang to confirm that all information had been received and make sure that nothing else was needed.

Tricia’s experience then entered the realms of the surreal. A friend verified her identity. The same person had verified her partner’s identity for their application for student finance and been accepted.

The proof of identity was rejected and during the phone call a claim was made that a letter to that effect had been sent out on October 20, which was remarkable in itself as the identity form had only been posted on October 19. Not only was there no sign of that letter’s arrival, there was no sign of it in the record of correspondence.

Tricia then raised the question of her previous complaint, only to be told there was no record of it. She was then told by a manager at Student Finance Wales that she was not entitled to see the content of any complaint raised by the company on her behalf, although that manager told her that she would now raise a complaint for her and notify her it had been raised.

After waiting a few days, and with no sign of a complaint being made, Tricia emailed a full complaint to Student Finance Wales and copied her constituency and regional AMs in along with Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams and the Assembly parties’ education spokespersons.

Response was swift. First to respond was Labour’s Joyce Watson who promised to raise the matter with the Cabinet Secretary. That was followed by responses from Paul Davies – who helped resolve Tricia’s previous complaint – Simon Thomas, and UKIP’s Neil Hamilton who provided a very full and sympathetic response to Tricia’s plight; then, the Welsh Government contacted Tricia and asked for her permission to deal with Student Finance Wales on her behalf.

Finally, a day or so later, Tricia was emailed by Student Finance Wales to say that they were now acting on her complaint.

Mysteriously, the letter telling her that her identity proof was unacceptable arrived postmarked October 31, the same day as her complaint.

Within seven days of contacting her local AMs, Tricia was told that her student finance had been approved and that payments would be made shortly. She does not think that is a coincidence.

Tricia is, however, still frustrated by the whole experience.

“The situation had become ridiculous. I was being discriminated against for being an older woman, who had been married before. They not only had all my information already, they told me they could see it on the computer system and yet still said they needed it again. It’s bureaucracy for the sake of it. And as for not allowing customers to see complaints raised on their behalf, I bet their complaints clear up rate is stellar.

“Again, it was only when I complained and copied in AMs that there was any movement at all. That is not right and just makes me wonder how many students who have not contacted their own AMs have been forced out of higher education by Student Finance Wales incompetence.”

She concluded: “When I initially raised issues about the process way back in August I was told that I should blame the Welsh Government! To make matters worse, it had been suggested to me that I could get my parents to confirm my name change. I could, I suppose, have got a shovel or Ouija board, but neither of those options was very appealing!”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Llyr Gruffydd said: “Plaid Cymru believes education is a right not a privilege so we want to make sure there is fair play when it comes to Student Finance Wales regardless of age or gender.”

Mid and West AM Simon Thomas added: “A constituent has informed me of a formal complaint they have made regarding the way in which their application for student finance has been handled by Student Finance Wales. Their application for student finance has still not been processed – almost five months after the initial application was made.

“My constituent feels that Student Finance Wales indirectly discriminate on the grounds of age and gender.”

Simon Thomas has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education requesting the following information.

  • An outline of Student Finance Wales’ complaints procedure
  • The number of complaints received by Student Finance Wales each year in the last five years
  • A breakdown of the nature of the complaints received
  • An outline of the evidence of income and identity Student Finance Wales asks for in order to process a student’s application for student finance

Tricia’s constituency AM, Paul Davies told The Herald: “The experiences that Tricia has had with Student Finance Wales are deeply disappointing and caused her unnecessary distress, at a time when she should be focusing on her studies. It’s clear that there are failings in the system, which continue to be unaddressed and the Welsh Government should now commit to seriously reviewing Student Finance Wales’ operations.

“Sadly, this is not the first worrying experience that Tricia has faced throughout her studies and it’s simply unacceptable. Lessons clearly haven’t been learnt from previous occasions and therefore it’s important that the Welsh Government urgently addresses these problems to ensure that other students are not faced with similar problems in the future.”

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Education

Aber academic’s exhibition of theatre architecture and performance space

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AN ACADEMIC from Aberystwyth University has been appointed to the international artistic team behind the world’s largest exhibition of theatre design and scenography.
Dr Andrew Filmer from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies has been appointed to curate the Performance Space Exhibition for the 15th Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space which takes place from 8–18 June 2023 at the Pražská Tržnice in Prague, Czech Republic.
Established in 1967, the Prague Quadrennial (PQ) brings the best of design for performance, scenography and theatre architecture together to be experienced by professional and emerging artists as well as the general public.
Dr Filmer will be one of the PQ curatorial team which is responsible for offering the festival’s participants a fresh look at the artistic production of our times in performance design and scenography.
The PQ 2023 theme is ‘Rare’, and will take into consideration the strange and precarious world of uncertainty we live in.
Scenographers, set designers, spatial artists, architects, theatre designers, and performers from over 90 countries will use their imagination and creativity to help people envision what the world and theatre could look like in the post-pandemic future.
Dr Filmer, a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, said: “It’s a great honour to take on the role of curator of the Performance Space Exhibition for the PQ in 2023. The PQ is an inspiring event that brings people together to experience and discuss the richness of performance design and scenography. My hope is that the Performance Space Exhibition in 2023 will offer an expanded sense of what performance space can be in a variety of settings, environments and cultures.”
Dr Filmer’s appointment extends a history of involvement by staff from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies in the PQ.
Professor Simon Banham, the current Head of Department, was PQ Commissioner of the Weather Exhibition in 2015 and part of the UK Gold Medal winning exhibition in 1994.
Mr Richard Downing’s work was displayed as part of the UK exhibition in 2007 and he was invited to lead a Space-Lab Workshop in 2015.
Both were invited to design and curate the PQ SharedSpace Symposium in 2014.
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Dr Filmer joined Aberystwyth University in 2008.
His research explores the sites of encounter between performance and architecture.
He is currently working with National Theatre Wales on the Ever After Project<https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tandfonline.com%2Fdoi%2Ffull%2F10.1080%2F23322551.2020.1856304&data=04%7C01%7C%7Cc54248e7523c4c3e8ee908d94080c335%7Cd47b090e3f5a4ca084d09f89d269f175%7C0%7C0%7C637611744029985411%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=7EE6DuZVF2kOnTZlBpJ3QkZn546ZVxe07TwaK6G607g%3D&reserved=0> which is exploring theatre and performance in the era of COVID-19, and considering how the processes of theatrical production and theatre aesthetics might be reconfigured in the light of the conditions imposed by the pandemic and in the post-pandemic future.

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Education

Aber to teach nursing in boost for NHS in Wales

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ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY will offer nursing qualifications for the first time, after new healthcare investment plans were given the go-ahead.
Health Education and Improvement Wales has awarded a contract to Aberystwyth University to educate both adult and mental health nurses until the end of this decade.
The first nursing students will arrive for their studies at Aberystwyth University in September 2022.
The decision has been hailed as a major boost for the health service, especially in mid Wales.
The new degree courses will also offer students the opportunity to study up to half of their course through the medium of Welsh.
Reacting to the announcement, Aberystwyth University Vice-Chancellor Professor Elizabeth Treasure commented:
“This is excellent and exciting news for everyone here in Aberystwyth. A big thanks goes to everyone who has been a part of developing our plans. We are very grateful for the consistent support of our partners, including the local health boards and Ceredigion County Council, without whom this exciting development would not be possible.”
“Supporting the community needs, in close co-operation with our partners, is central to our civic mission; and establishing nursing education here will be an important part of that. It will benefit the local recruitment and retention of nurses, as well as the potential to inspire new models of healthcare delivery which will be of benefit to everyone. Our plans will also make an important contribution to enhancing mental health and Welsh-medium provision locally and beyond.”
“During the pandemic, the hard work and commitment of our nurses, and that of other NHS and care workers during this turbulent time, has been nothing short of extraordinary. It is a great honour that Health Education and Improvement Wales has put its trust and investment in us, so that we can deliver on our exciting plans to educate nurses here.”
Professor Treasure added:
“Over the years ahead, our ambition is to play an even bigger role in educating healthcare professionals. Given everyone’s experiences during the pandemic, there is perhaps no more important time to prioritise investing in the next generation of talented young people who will be responsible for the welfare of us all.”
Chris Jones, Chair of Health Education and Improvement Wales said:
“This has been a huge piece of work reflecting the importance of high quality healthcare education and patient care in Wales. The approaches to widening access and grounding training in our communities will equip our students to serve well the needs of the population going forward.
“Thank you to everyone involved including stakeholders who helped shape the contracts and in turn the future of healthcare education. We’re looking forward to working with Universities and Health Boards to bring this modern approach to life and equipping students with the skills, knowledge and experience to embark on successful and fulfilling careers.”
The proposals to establish nursing education were developed by Aberystwyth University in co-operation with a number of partners including the Hywel Dda, Betsi Cadwaladr and Powys local health boards as well as service users and carers.

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Business

University to host industry summit online

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SUPPORTING industry’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic is a key priority for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

The University has a track record for working with industry through knowledge transfer, research innovation, workforce development and by providing a ready pipeline of skilled students and graduates, in partnership with employers.

In addition, UWTSD’s MADE Cymru initiative was established to support manufacturing industries in Wales to adapt to the challenges of Industry 4.0.

The initiative, funded by the EU via the Welsh Government, aims to support the economic recovery of manufacturers in Wales by offering part and fully funded training to businesses to upskill staff, as well as research and development that improves processes and products to reduce waste and costs.

In addition, UWTSD and MADE Cymru have organised an Industry Summit to be held online between June 8-10 to inform, engage and inspire businesses during this critical period of post-Covid recovery.

Expert speakers will be sharing their insights including James Davies from Industry Wales, Carol Hall, Regional Investment Manager, Development Bank of Wales, Chris Probert, Innovation Specialist, Welsh Government and Geraint Jones, Knowledge Transfer Adviser at KTN.

The line-up also includes Welsh manufacturers who will be sharing their own experiences, including Tim Hawkins, Managing Director, Markes International, Julia Chesney-Roberts, Commercial Manager, Riversimple, Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh and Jacques Bonfrer, Co-Founder and Team Lead, Bot-Hive.

There will be guest talks from circular economy expert Eoin Bailey and lean author Daryl Powell and an opportunity to find out about the range of services offered by the University.

Graham Howe, Executive Head of the MADE Cymru project at UWTSD says: “This Industry Summit aims to explore issues and challenges facing manufacturing in Wales so that we can work together with employers to find solutions. 

“We always start with asking a manufacturer what their biggest problem is today and look at how we can help them with it.

“We aim to unravel potentially confusing challenges like these. Our approach begins by looking at what companies need to increase their productivity and competitiveness.

“We aim to lead the businesses we work with through a journey of continuous improvement – a journey that makes the most of Industry 4.0 technologies and their ever-growing digital capabilities to help solve the specific problems faced by each company.

“All of the feedback we receive from businesses shapes our curriculum – we want to produce employable, digitally literate graduates who can contribute to their workplace from day one”.

Alison Orrells is CEO and Managing Director of Safety Letterbox and has been one of the organisations participating in the MADE Cymru initiative.

She said: “It was important to keep innovating and investing to set us apart and come out stronger. It’s been intense but we had a game plan – now it is all about business future-proofing, being agile, collaborations and being adaptable.”

Covid-19 has affected every part of a business and shifted the focus from production to survival.

UWTSD recently led a round table discussion with Welsh manufacturers about the future of manufacturing in Wales.

That discussion found that their outlook is positive about the future.

Manufacturers accelerated their adoption of new technologies to enhance and optimise production.

With many employees on furlough, managers took the opportunity to rethink and invest in better IT, particularly communications, training and diversified into new product areas. They looked to local colleges and universities to help shift perceptions of jobs in manufacturing and demonstrated the career opportunities and pathways available.

They also loosened their reliance on overseas imports and looked for suppliers in the UK to minimise future risk of disruption.

All sessions of the Industry Summit are free to attend and places can be booked on the UWTSD website: https://uwtsd.ac.uk/made/made-cymru-industry-summit/

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