Kieron Rees, Universities Wales’ Policy Adviser, discusses the role of Regional Skills Partnerships in Wales.
The National Assembly for Wales’ Economy, Infrastructure and Skills committee recently announced an inquiry into Regional Skills Partnerships in Wales and will be taking evidence from a range of stakeholders over the coming weeks including universities, colleges, work-based learning and local authorities.
There are three Regional Skills Partnerships (RSPs) in Wales which produce regional Employment and Skills Plans to influence the provision of skills in their region. These RSPs cover:
– North Wales
– South East Wales
– South West and Mid Wales
The committee asked stakeholders about whether the data and evidence used by the RSPs is timely and reliable, how well RSPs engage with and take into account views of those who do not sit on the boards, and the extent to which the RSPs are able to reflect current and future skills demands within their region.
In our response to the consultation, we have highlighted what we see to be the potential benefits to the RSP model but argued that the effectiveness of the partnerships would be improved by wider engagement, greater specialised use of data which would provide a more forward-facing approach, and an increased focus on providing for a responsive and flexible skills system rather than on planning provision.
Of course regional skills are important but some skills require development at a national or international level. This national or international role, which universities in Wales play, is reflected in the economic impact that universities have in their region and in communities across Wales In 2015/16, Welsh universities created 49,216 jobs in Wales, 22% of which were in areas which do not host a university, and generated £5bn of output. Compared to other parts of the UK, Welsh universities are of a greater relative economic importance to Wales.
This national and international dimension is reflected in the way in which university staff and students are often highly mobile. As well as the 22,000 international students at Welsh universities, there are also significant cross-border flows between England and Wales. Similarly, EU and international staff account for around 10% of the staff cohort of Welsh universities.
There is also a substantial international dimension to the work that universities carry out. In 2014, 46% of Welsh publications were internationally co-authored and Welsh publications were cited 68% more often than the world average.
As well as supporting a responsive and flexible skills system, there may also be opportunities for the RSPs to play a role in the development of degree apprenticeships in Wales. Each of the partnerships have at different times highlighted the importance of degree apprenticeship development in meeting skills needs in Wales. As we have highlighted before, there is an opportunity for a wider range of degree apprenticeships, at both level 6 and 7, to be developed in Wales.
With the future workplace changes that are expected in Wales and across the UK including the increasing need for higher level skills, a flexible and responsive skills system will be an essential part of ensuring Wales is able to meet the challenges of the future. In many ways, universities are highly responsive and flexible in their course offering but the system in Wales is such that this is driven by student demand, and students are mobile and able to access course offerings from across the UK and beyond.
Although there are benefits to an approach that looks at what the regional skills needs of Wales are, attempting to plan provision will mean potentially limiting the speed at which providers can respond to need. Similarly, universities are vitally important drivers of local economies across Wales, in part because of the way their work is regional, national and international, including the economic impact of students and staff coming to study or work in Wales. A regional approach will need to recognise this to ensure that the economic benefits that universities bring to the people and place Wales continue.
You can read our full response here.