Around 100 guests came together last night to celebrate the contribution of Welsh universities to the economy and Welsh society. The Universities Wales annual reception brought together sector and non-sector representatives, Assembly Members and other stakeholders for an evening to recognise and acknowledge the work of Welsh universities, and for the launch of a new report into the economic impact of Welsh universities.
Universities Wales chair Professor Julie Lydon welcomed guests to the evening, noting that the extensive changes to the higher education sector in Wales provided a timely backdrop for a reflection on the essential role that universities have to play in contributing to the government agenda, and indeed the central role they play in our society more broadly.
“We have a lot to be proud of. Higher education in Wales continues to be a vibrant, successful sector. Our universities are institutions for the public benefit, with proud and far-reaching histories of delivering for Wales, and for its people. Through the provision of world-leading research and innovative teaching, our institutions further individual aspirations and we facilitate individual prosperity.”
But Professor Lydon also noted that our universities don’t just help realise individual talent; they are critical agents of economic regeneration and growth, as well as creators of knowledge and prosperity, as demonstrated by the report launched today.
“Universities are not just an optional add-on to a government’s economic and social policies. They are absolutely fundamental to achieving social and economic progress, and to establishing the kind of country that can compete and prosper in the future.”
The report, which demonstrates the significant and far-reaching contribution of Welsh universities, found that universities generate over £5billion of impact and that this translates into almost 50’000 jobs across the nation. These aren’t small numbers, and whether it’s universities research activities driving innovation, or the off-campus expenditure of students supporting local businesses, our universities contribute every day to the economic fortune of our country.
Speaking at the evening’s event, Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams said she was delighted that the report “shows the extent of the employment and economic opportunities universities deliver in every corner of Wales.”
Whilst celebrating the sector’s economic contribution, the Cab Sec also highlighted universities’ academic, research and cultural impact, and the role universities play in “driving the nation’s prosperity – in economic and cultural terms – equally.”
Julie also championed the role universities play to help realise a collective ambition for a Wales that is more equal, and more fair. Celebrating that higher education in Wales is more inclusive than ever, and Welsh campuses are among the most vibrant and diverse in the UK, Julie noted that our universities continue to have higher proportions of students from the most under-represented groups compared to the rest of the UK.
Both Kirsty and Julie celebrated the way such values are central to the work of Welsh universities, but also how our successes are underpinned by the value placed on working in partnership. Julie said “We often talk of the distinctiveness of the education sector in Wales, what makes us unique and different. One of the most valuable of these characteristics is the value we all place on seeking new opportunities to work in partnership to meet our collective ambitions. These shared beliefs in the value of partnership offers us a strong foundation for all of the work that we do.”
Kirsty concluded the evening looking forward to the opportunities for partnership which will underpin an exciting year for the sector
“We will implement the most progressive and radical student support system in the UK, delivering for all our students and institutions.
We will continue to move forward with our reforms to the post-16 sector, ensuring a system that is fit for purpose and delivers for all students at all stages of their careers and lives.
We will have a sector that leads the way on fair work and fair wages, whilst continuing to deliver on research excellence, international links and the best student possible student experience.
And we will do all that in partnership, working together to ensure that higher education continues to be one of our greatest national assets.”
Universities Wales thanks all those who attended last night, and all those who have worked with us over the past year and contributed to a successful year for the Welsh higher education sector. We look forwards to an exciting year ahead, and to our continued work with all those from across our sector and beyond.