Universities Wales Weekly Wrap Up – 03 Feb 2017

Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB) Update

The Bill was further considered by the House of Lords in Committee on 30 January 2017, including the discussion of amendments relating to UKRI.

A number of government amendments were agreed to (485, 487, 497 and 498, 500, 508, 513 and 515) – but no other amendments. The amendments sponsored by Universities Scotland/Wales relating to the membership and operation of UKRI (476, 482, 486, 501, 502, 504 and 507) were withdrawn at the request of the government to allow consideration of the UK Government’s response (see the debate in Hansard from c.4:15pm onwards –  in particular, the comments from Lord Patel at Hansard Col. 993 and response from Lord Prior at Hansard Col. 1003, here).

The Bill now moves into the Report Stage in the House of Lord. Although the date of the next meeting is yet to be fixed, it usually starts 14 days after committee stage has concluded. This is generally shorter than committee stage, but gives the Lords a further opportunity to make amendments.  This will be followed by the Third Reading which gives the Lords a final chance to tidy up the Bill.

A revised version of the Bill incorporating the amendments from Committee has been published (see HL Bill 97 here).

Wales Bill update

The Wales Bill received Royal Assent on 31 January 2017, becoming the Wales Act 2017 (see here). This incorporated the amendments agreed in the Lords defining universities as ‘Welsh devolved authorities’ rather than ‘Wales public authorities’. These amendments address the concerns raised by Universities Wales about the treatment of universities as public authorities in the Bill and the potential impact for national accounting status and their duties as charities. They deal with the inadvertent extension of a number of substantive provisions to universities relating eg to the powers of the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, the Auditor General, and carrying out governmental functions. The amendments also ensure that the Open University is able to continue to operate as a pan-UK institution. 

A copy of the Act is available here.

Brexit Report

External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee laid its report on the Implications for Wales of leaving the European Union before the National Assembly for Wales on 27 January 2017 (see here).

Student support regulations

The Welsh Government laid the Education (Student Support)(Wales) Regulations 2017 on 27 January 2017. See here for the regulations and here for the Explanatory Memorandum. This should reflect the headline changes to student support as previously notified in the Student Finance Wales Information Note (see here). Universities Wales will be checking the detail of this more closely.

UCAS Cycle 2017 – main deadline statistics

UCAS full-time undergraduate applicant statistics relating to the 15 January 2017 deadline were released on Thursday 2 February 2017. See for further details.

The UK headline is that applications to the UK are down 5% on last year to 564,000, a reduction of around 30,000 students. Based on the previous trend of increasing entry rates and population changes, a no growth position would have been expected.

UK students fell by 5% (-26,450). This included a reduction in students from England (-6%), and Wales (-7%). A fall in EU students (- 7%, -6,000) was also notable.

In particular, there was a large fall in older applicants ie 25yrs old and over (-23%, -12,000), particularly applicants for Nursing (-5,000). A drop in applications from 18 year olds, although only a small fall in percentage terms (-1% in England and NI, and -2% in Scotland and Wales), accounted for around 8,000 of the overall reduction.

Comparing this to the underlying population data, UCAS calculated that the application rate increased by a small amount in England (by 0.4% to 37%) but declined in Wales (from 32.2% to 31.7%) and Northern Ireland (from 48.1% to 47.5%), and remained flat in Scotland (at 32.6%).

Forthcoming data releases

HESA data relating to 2015/16 is due to be released as follows (see here):

  • Performance Indicators for Widening participation 2015/16 – 7 February 2017.
  • Higher education undergraduate student enrolments and qualifications obtained at alternative providers in England 2015/16 – 8 February 2017.
  • Students in Higher Education 2015/16 (the full data set) – 9 February 2017.

Hazelkorn Review Statement

On 31 January 2017, the Welsh Government made a statement in Plenary on the Hazelkorn Review of post-compulsory education and training in Wales (see here for the Record of Proceedings). The review, chaired by Professor Hazelkorn, was published in March 2016 (see here for the Report).

In particular, the Welsh Government proposed to establish a single strategic authority, responsible for overseeing all aspects of post-compulsory education and training:

  • the new body would be given responsibility for planning, funding, contracting, ensuring quality, financial monitoring, audit and performance, and be the lead funder of research.
  • the current functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales would be transferred to the new authority, which would operate at arm’s length from the Welsh Government.

It was also announced that:

  • Professor Graeme Reid will oversee a review of research and innovation activity investment made by Welsh Government and related agencies.
  • Later in the spring, the Welsh Government intends to review how to monitor and improve effectiveness and outcomes in the post-compulsory education system.

The Welsh Government will launch a White Paper consultation in Spring 2017 (i.e. before mid-June), with a 90-day period for responses. The Cabinet Secretary also indicated, in response to questions, that they would consider a consultation on a Draft Bill. The current chair of HEFCW has provisionally agreed to continue in this role for a further three years. The proposals in their current form will require primary legislation to put into effect, but a slot on the legislative programme has not yet been scheduled. The entire process including the consultation and the proper scrutiny processes of legislation that the Bill will need to go through is currently expected to be completed in the period of three years. However, the Cabinet Secretary indicated a ‘broad timescale’ for implementation and stressed that ‘it needs to be done right’.

ONS classification review of universities

On 31 January 2017, ONS announced (see here):

“Since the early 2000s, universities have been classified all together to the non-profit institutions serving households (S.15) sector in the UK National Accounts. This classification predates the substantial rise in tuition fees from 2012 and other changes in funding arrangements. It also predates the adoption of the European System of Accounts 2010 (ESA 2010) statistical framework in 2014.

In order to address these changes, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is undertaking a classification review of universities in the UK. The review will be conducted in accordance with ESA 2010 guidance, to ensure compliance with the new rules on assessing whether institutional units (that is, universities) are “market” or “non-market” producers. Further information on this can be found in section 3.1.2 of the classification process page on the ONS website.

The outcome of the review will be that an individual university will either be deemed to be in the private non-financial corporations (S.11002) sector, or will remain classified as a non-profit institution serving households (S.15).

ONS regularly reviews legislation and guidance relating to a number of institutions, including universities, to determine whether any changes would have a potential impact on private sector classification and will continue to do so. ONS is not currently aware of any legislative (or similar) changes that would put in doubt the private sector classification of universities at this time and therefore public sector control will not be assessed as part of this review. This means that at the end of the review universities will remain classified to the private sector.

The review is expected to be completed within 12 months and classification decisions will be published as each university’s review is completed.”

Political update

  • The Welsh Government published its response to the Hazelkorn report on post-compulsory education and training in Wales. In a press release, Kirsty Williams said they accepted the review’s recommendations and described it as “an opportunity to shape a system where institutions of all types are encouraged to work together to meet learners’ needs, allowing them to progress and building strong links with business and providing the skills our economy needs.” The full Plenary debate can be read here, while an Assembly research service blog summary can be viewed here.
  • Plans to increase the number of women and girls in Wales studying STEM subjects and pursuing careers in the science sector “have moved a step closer” with acceptance of all the recommendations outlined in Talented Women for a Successful Wales. A written ministerial statement by Julie James, Minister for Science and Skills, can be viewed here.
  • A £13m EU funding boost to help put Cardiff University’s Institute for Compound Semiconductors at the forefront of 21st Century technologies has been announced by Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford.
  • An explanatory memorandum to The Education (Student Support) (Wales) Regulations 2017 has been laid before the Assembly. The full legislation can be viewed here.
  • The Cabinet Secretary for Education has agreed the Funding Award to HEFCW to deliver additional Welsh Language work through Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol 2016/17.
  • The Welsh Language Standards (No. 6) Regulations 2017 were passed with no objection during Tuesday’s Plenary session.