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Education

AM’s fears for local higher education

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Students given the chance to learn in Welsh face cuts

Students given the chance to learn in Welsh face cuts

PLAID CYMRU AM Simon Thomas, has raised fears about the future of local higher education, following a large cut in funding to the sector from the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government announced its draft budget last month featuring massive cuts to the Higher Education budget, affecting all higher education institutions in Wales, including the Carmarthen-based Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

There are 15 staff of the national all-Wales Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol based in the office in Y Llwyfan, Heol y Coleg, Carmarthen.

The Shadow Education Minister: “I’ve been contacted by many people who fear for the future of our universities locally.

“The Welsh language Coleg Cymraeg, a newly founded institution based in Carmarthen, is just one of the higher education institutions which will now be underfunded and struggling to compete.

“Cutbacks of 32% for Higher Education in Wales will take £41million out of universities’ budgets whilst the Welsh Government is increasing its funding for English universities to £90m through its tuition fees policy.

“This is a scandalous admission from this government that it is pursuing short-term headlines instead of making long-term commitments.

“It will make it difficult for universities to widen access to Higher Education for students from all backgrounds, and the Welsh Government has questions to answer over how it intends to ensure a fair playing field for all students.”

An independent report by Universities Wales last October assessed the impact of Higher Education in Wales it discovered that 1512 full-time jobs in Carmarthenshire are generated by university activity and 542 in Pembrokeshire.

The contribution to the local economy was £8.2m in Carmarthenshire and £27.3m in Pembrokeshire.

The Coleg Cenedlaethol ensures more study opportunities for Welsh medium students – in partnership with the universities.

Since 2011 £18m has been invested in universities across Wales by the Coleg, with 115 lecturers appointed in universities in a large number of subjects including: medicine, geography and drama.

Their £1m scholarship scheme has benefited over 600 students that have received bursaries.

When the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol was established by Welsh Government in 2011, funds were allocated for a period of six years, up to 2017, to implement the recommendations of the report compiled by Professor Robin Williams. More than £30m has been invested thus far in the further development of Welsh medium provision, with the majority of the funding used to appoint new Welsh medium lecturers.

Over 115 new Welsh medium lecturers have been appointed as a result of Coleg funding and an extensive range of other activities are being supported across the higher education sector, including the development and provision of new resources, enhancing the student experience, facilitating collaboration between universities, providing scholarships to students and academic staff training, and working with schools and further education colleges. These activities have already led to a situation where an additional 1,000 full-time students are now studying through the medium of Welsh.

We asked Coleg Cenedlaethol to respond to the cuts and Mr Thomas’s comments.

We received a statement which set out the institution’s viewpoint and considerable concerns about the potential damage caused by a cut in funding.

From the outset, the Coleg was seen as a long-term project to ensure that Welsh medium university education was available to students in a wide range of subjects. The lecturers are distributed across the universities. The fact that so many of these lecturers are early career academics means that there is now a generation of lecturers who will, in time, be able to develop and embed Welsh-medium provision and thereby transform the situation in the universities.

The biggest challenge at present is to maintain what has been achieved during the first five years, and to build on it, at a time of considerable pressure on public funding. In Professor Ian Diamond’s recently published Interim Report, there is a section that deals specifically with Welsh medium provision, including the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. It is also stated that further attention will be given to Welsh medium provision during the next phase of the Review. The Coleg believes that this presents an excellent opportunity to establish permanent and sustainable arrangements for maintaining Welsh medium provision in the universities and, in particular, to recognise the additional costs associated with that provision.

In this context, the Coleg is very concerned that short-term decisions in relation to the Coleg’s budget for 2016/17 will undermine the existing arrangements, thereby jeopardising much of what has been achieved, at a time when the Diamond Review could recommend a durable solution.

Recognising the current financial climate and the savings required by publicly funded bodies, the Coleg’s Board of Directors, at their meeting in November 2015, identified savings across the Coleg’s range of activities so that a budget can be set for the academic year 2016/17. The proposed budget would enable the Coleg’s activities to remain viable while discussions take place on the funding arrangements for 2017/18 and beyond. The Coleg has also held constructive discussions with the universities about their commitments to maintain provision following the end of some fixed-term grants provided by the Coleg.

The publication of the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016/17, however, creates uncertainty, since there is a possibility of a further and substantial cut in the Coleg’s budget. This is a cause for concern and, for that reason, the discussions are ongoing with the Welsh Government and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

The Coleg does not intend to make any further public comment until those discussions have been completed.

Rebecca Williams, Policy Officer for UCAC education union, told The Herald: “UCAC has very serious concerns about the proposed 40% cut to the Higher Education budget, and indeed about the Welsh Government’s current funding methodology.

“By channelling such a high percentage of the Higher Education budget through students in the form of tuition fee grants, the Welsh Government is ensuring that millions of pounds are flowing from the Welsh budget directly to universities over the border, mainly in England.

“At the same time, by substantially reducing the funding it provides to universities via the funding body (HEFCW), the Welsh Government is undermining its ability to influence the sector in key areas such as parttime provision, increasing access to students from deprived backgrounds, and providing Welsh-medium courses. The clear and immediate consequence of such a cut will be the axing of these crucial types of provision.

“Such a move could be devastating to the nature and quality of university provision, the Welsh economy, and the options available to students of all backgrounds. We call on the Welsh Government to revisit this illconsidered and damaging decision.”

Universities Wales, the body which represents the interests of Universities within Wales were equally concerned and have suggested that the cuts are both in breach of the Welsh Government’s current policy on widening access and constitute a reverse of previous policy commitments. In its submission to the Welsh Government on the issue, the Uni Wales says: “The distribution of the cuts between institutions is likely to be very uneven. At this stage we are unclear how the sector can absorb a reduction of this size in a single year or where the shortfall in income can be made. The impact of the fee and funding changes introduced from 2012/13, for instance, has worked through the system already and will provide no significant additional income for 2016/17. Recruitment for 2016 entry is already in full swing, and growth in fulltime undergraduates from Wales remains subject to an overall limit in the sector.”

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Education

Teacher’s gruelling challenge to help visually impaired child

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TEACHER Sion Jenkins is running 100 laps around a famous Pembrokeshire landmark to raise money to help a visually impaired child in his class.

He is aiming to raise £2,000 on crowd funder platform Go Fund Me by doing laps of Carew Castle and Mill in just 24 hours, about one hundred miles in total.

Sion said: “I decided that I wanted to raise money to help purchase a trike/adapted bike to help a visually impaired child in my class.

“Due to his sight, he isn’t able to ride a bike – and is desperate to gain some independence/confidence and ride a bike like every other child.

“On the back of a challenge set by school, to complete the ‘100 challenge’ as a tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore, I decided to tie the two together and have a go at completing this gruelling challenge.

“100 laps of Carew Castle and Mill will total just under 100 miles – in less than 24 hours.”

If you would like to contribute to this epic challenge this is the link:

https://uk.gofundme.com/f/carew-mill-100-laps-in-24-hours?

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Education

Schools partnership promotes the benefits of outdoor learning

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OUTDOOR learning across the county has received a welcome boost over the past 12 months as a result of additional funding secured by the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools (PODS) project, which has covered the cost of a Co-ordinator working directly with schools.

Thanks to financial backing from the People’s Postcode Local Trust and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust, the PODS Co-ordinator has been able to help with the delivery of high quality, curriculum-linked learning experiences in school grounds and local outdoor spaces.

Part of the Co-ordinator’s role is also to bring together local and national organisations, including Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Discovery team, teachers and head teachers. Pooling their diverse knowledge and expertise, the partnership seeks to share good practice and promote the benefits of taking lessons outdoors.

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator Bryony Rees said: “Last summer, the Welsh Government recognised the importance of outdoor learning in the post-lockdown return to school. We have been working hard to support this by giving children and teachers increased opportunities to take their learning outdoors.

“We have already engaged with a number of schools across Pembrokeshire and produced some live webinars. Supporting resources for these can be found on HWB. This has made it possible to reach out to even more schools with practical information, inspiration and advice on delivering outdoor learning programmes.

“Several schools have taken the opportunity to develop their school grounds to support outdoor learning and more recently, Neyland Community School has introduced outdoor lessons every Friday.”

During the most recent lockdown, work has continued online and the PODS website has been developed to provide teachers with some learning resources. Outdoor learning ideas and inspiration for teachers and parents are also shared on the PODS Facebook page (Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools) and on Twitter @PembsOutdoorSch.

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Education

Education announcement welcomed by Pembrokeshire County Council

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THE LOCAL AUTHORITY has said that it welcomes the Welsh Government’s announcement today (Friday, 29th January) that schools will be the first to reopen when Wales’ current lockdown restrictions are lifted.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that the ‘alert level four’ restrictions will remain in Wales for three more weeks but following that period, there would be a ‘phased and flexible back-to-school approach if coronavirus cases continue to fall’.

He said primary school children would be the first to return, if the public health situation continues to improve, and that students studying vocational qualifications would also be among those prioritised for the phased return to colleges.

Mr Drakeford said: “We’ve seen a really welcome fall in cases of the virus all over Wales, but they are still too high and the NHS continues to be under intense pressure.

“We need to keep the lockdown restrictions in place for a little while longer to help us bring rates of the virus down further. If we can do this, we will create the headroom we need to get children back to school after half term – starting with the youngest at primary schools.

“We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”

Pembrokeshire’s Director of Education, Steven Richards-Downes, will be meeting virtually with Welsh Government ministers today together with other Education Directors.

Mr Richards-Downes said: “We welcome the Welsh Government’s statement that schools will be the first to reopen, whenever that may be.

“We will continue to work directly with unions, headteachers, governing bodies and other Council services to ensure that schools are Covid-safe when they are re-opened.

“Distance learning will continue for now and parents should contact their schools directly if they have any queries regarding this.”

He added: “Any parent experiencing difficulties with digital exclusion should contact their school directly.

Free school meals payments will continue to be paid to families who have applied for them, as planned. The next payments will be made on Thursday, 4th February.

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