LSW Response to Diamond Review of Higher Education funding in Wales

The Learned Society of Wales welcomes the publication of the Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales and would like to thank Sir Ian Diamond and colleagues for their efforts and commitment over the last two years.

Recognising that the current fee‐grant model supporting Welsh‐domiciled students was not sustainable, the Society provided a detailed report and evidence to the Diamond Panel, back in January 2015, highlighting the importance of adequate student support while also tackling the historical under-funding of the Welsh HE sector. Without sustainable support, investment in the HE sector in Wales would fall further behind that in England with the real danger that studying in Wales could be increasingly seen as a less attractive option for graduate and postgraduate students compared to other parts of the UK.

In the interests of equity, the LSW proposed that Welsh Government fee‐grant support should be discontinued and that all Welsh‐domiciled students should bear the burden of full fees, wherever they choose to study, but with means tested support available to  full and part‐time students in most need.

The Diamond Review brings together many different aspects of higher education into one overall system for the benefit of Wales, in the expectation that the total range of recommendations will be implemented in full. The LSW submission argued that it was critically important that funding released from changing the policy of ‘fee‐grants for all’ should be restored to HEFCW, so that it could direct support to the universities to help tackle key priorities including supporting quality research, part-time provision, the protection of strategically important subjects including Welsh-medium provision and Wales-related studies, and expensive subjects such as medicine ensuring that Welsh universities could continue to be competitive.

With this in mind, the Society welcomed the Review’s commitment that ‘Institutions providing higher education should be funded at a level that enables them to deliver teaching and research of the highest quality, in line with their respective strengths, specialisms, and missions’. Implementing the full ranges of recommendations from Diamond Review will therefore be vital, both for the  benefit of future students and encouraging their access to higher education, but also ensuring that Wales has a sustainable  successful and competitive higher  education sector.

Recognition of the Learned Society of Wales

The Review further recommends a range of funding strategies that support research, encourage a new generation of researchers trained in Wales, and maximise knowledge exchange from both commercial and social research. In a welcome development the Review also drew attention to the current and future role of the Learned Society of Wales:

Specifically, on pages 56-57 the Review indicated that “The LSW is a very welcome addition to the Welsh intellectual landscape, particularly given its multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral fellowship” and highlighted thatthe need to harness the most talented members of their societies to provide advice; to challenge and to debate, similar to other learned societies such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh or the Royal Society of London” was important for successful knowledge-based economies.

Commenting on the role of the LSW, the Review continued:

We believe it has the potential to develop into a real resource for a) improving the public understanding of science and stimulating and contributing to public debate and engagement on key contemporary issues; b) contributing to the development of Wales’ ‘soft power’ by promoting international networks of interest in Welsh institutions, culture and values; c) inspiring and supporting Wales’ most promising young talent across the research, business and public sectors, in order to create value for the economy and society; d) providing independent advice and horizon scanning across a wide range of areas through ensuring that Wales’ policy makers and influencers have access to the best national, and indeed global expertise; e) better recognising the quality of scholarship existing in and associated with Wales; and f) promoting Wales’ interests and reputation on the global stage.

For the Society to deliver on this remit and function effectively, the Review recommends that the LSW should be provided with ”the kind of core funding seen in other jurisdictions”. Having ‘looked at the funding regimes elsewhere in the UK” the Review formally recommended “that the LSW should receive funding of £1m per annum, directed through HEFCW against a set of objectives agreed between the LSW and HEFCW, taking into account important future challenges and priorities for the Welsh Government.”

Mindful of the need to remain independent, the Society currently receives most of its funding for its core running costs and wide range of operational activities in the form of annual unrestricted grants from all of Wales’s universities and Fellowship fees.

The new support recommended by the Diamond Review is particularly welcomed because the recommended purposes chime well with the objectives and mission of the Society. The additional funding would comprise restricted funding where the Society would be tasked to deliver mutually agreed objectives by HEFCW that help promote and advance excellence in research and scholarship in Wales.  Similar‘grant-in-aid’ schemes are employed in Scotland for the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

Importance of growing the next generation of Postgraduate researchers

The Review also drew attention to the importance of developing the next generation of researchers (p56/57) and proposes comparable student support for part-time and postgraduate students, with PGT course fees at Welsh universities ‘soft capped’ at £9,000.

Given the insufficient critical mass of researchers in Wales in STEMM, the Review proposes that the ‘Welsh Government establishes an ambitious programme to train a new generation of researchers in Wales.’

Specifically, the Review recommends setting up  a Post Graduate Research Scholarship Scheme involving 150 scholarships per year where the costs are “funded in a three way equal partnership between the Welsh Government, the University in which the research student will be based, and another funder either from the private, public or third sector” . The scholarships would “be available for study in any area of research, as long as the three-way partnership described above existed”. The Review proposes ‘that these scholarships could be administered on an annual basis by the Learned Society of Wales (LSW), subject to agreement of the proposal relating to the LSW later in this section”.

Commenting on the Review the LSW President , Sir  Emyr Jones Parry said:

‘The Diamond Review is a carefully prepared balance between encouraging students to enter higher education and ensuring the sustainability of Welsh universities. I hope the implementation will also deliver more much needed financial support to our institutions so that they can continue to compete successfully in a global market.’

Commenting on the Review, the LSW Chief Executive, Professor Peter Halligan  said:

This is a significant and welcome endorsement of the role that LSW has and can play in helping to grow and promote Wales’s ambitious research programme.”

Click here to read the report in full (and full quotes on recommendations for LSW on pages 57, 63,64, 68 , 80 and 84)

LSW submissions to and comments on the Diamond Review and Consultation o:

Photo from Aberdeen University