Welsh fee plans up in the air…

I had just finished the exciting job of marking my examinations and collating all the results with coursework when I noticed a rumour circulating on twitter about the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) having rejected plans by all Welsh universities to charge higher fees than the basic £4K laid down by the Welsh Assembly Government. The rumour later developed into a story on the NUS website and then on the local BBC News, Wales Online and the Times Higher.

In case you’re not up with the intricacies of Welsh Higher Education policy, universities here in the Principality will, from 2012, be allowed to charge fees of up to £9K per annum (as in England) if and only if they have approval from HEFCW for plans relating “to widening access and to improving the student experience.” Note there’s apparently no requirement of providing a better education in that. As a mere university teacher I have no idea at all what has gone into Cardiff University’s plan nor do I know why it is deemed satisfactory. Such things are done by our lords and masters in the University administration.

It does seem strange, though, that the process works this way, i.e. that HEIs have to produce plans that they hope will be accepted by HEFCW. Why doesn’t HEFCW simply tell the HEIs what they have to do to be able to charge the fees? I wonder how the clear the guidance from HEFCW was. It might be a case of “Read my mind to see what I want, and if you don’t give it to me I’ll shoot you”.

Universities wishing to charge £9K (which is, predictably, nearly all of them) had to submit their plans to HEFCW by the end of May. Several universities did so, including Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Bangor, and even Glamorgan, who all want to charge the maximum £9K. HEFCW has now announced that none of them meet the standard needed to charge more than £4k. There’s still quite a bit of time for universities to amend their plans before the deadline of 11th July, so this is by no means the end of the story, but it has certainly set alarm bells ringing where I work!

The point is that the Welsh Assembly Government is heavily cutting the funds it allocates to Welsh Universities from 2012, so if institutions are not allowed to charge sufficiently high fees to recoup that loss then many departments are going to be in really big trouble, especially those teaching expensive subjects.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews is quoted as saying

I asked for Hefcw to be thorough and robust when scrutinising the fee plans submitted by our higher education and further education institutions. It is clear that they have been and I heartily endorse this.

There are a number of ways of reading the lie of the land here. One is that it’s actually a sensible process of consultation between individual institutions and HEFCW. Since this is uncharted territory for both there may well be things that need to be clarified on both sides, and HEFCW may therefore be engaging in a sensible process of consultation and iteration in order to help institutions produce acceptable plans. It could also represent an element brinkmanship, so the Minister and HEFCW can be seen to be flexing a bit of muscle, in contrast to the situation in England, where it appears the government has no power to prevent institutions charging higher fees. I always felt it was inevitable that Cardiff, as a Russell Group University, would want to charge £9K, but I can imagine Leighton Andrews being irritated by places like Glamorgan wanting to charge the same.

Whatever game is being played, it’s a very dangerous one and the stakes are very high. The Welsh Assembly Government has already indicated it will pay the fees of any Welsh domiciled students wherever they study in the UK. For the most part that will mean £9K per student per year for Welsh students wanting to study in England. If Welsh universities can only charge £4K per year for students coming from England to Wales then there will be a huge imbalance in funds flowing in and out of the higher education sector. In effect, the Welsh Assembly Government will be subsidising English universities at the expense of Welsh ones.

Currently the number of English students coming to Wales exceeds the number of Welsh students studying in England. The WAG’s plan relies on a net influx of funds to offset the cuts in central funding needed to pay student bursaries. However, English students do not come in equal numbers to all Welsh institutions. More come to Cardiff University than, say, Bangor. So how will this extra income from England benefit the Welsh HE sector generally? Is the proposal to cut HEFCW funds to Universities who succeed in attracting English cash cows students and redistribute the dosh among those institutions that don’t? That hardly seems equitable to me.

I’m certainly not in a panic about this news, although I may be on July 11th when we find out the final outcome. In the meantime, as a humble academic at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to such matters, I’ll get on with my teaching and research and pray that those in charge actually know what they’re doing…

20 Responses to “Welsh fee plans up in the air…”

  1. steve eales Says:

    The possibility that Welsh universities that are good at attracting English students are penalised by reduced state funding seems so unfair that I think (hope) it doesn’t happen. I guess the positive spin on this is that there is no hidden agenda and that HECW really does mean what it says, and are trying to assess the value to the Welsh public – in terms of widening participation, good quality education – of allowing the fees to increase. It would be nice to think that is the case.

  2. Paul Roche Says:

    It’s amazing that no clear guidance has been given on what is required of HEIs in terms of “widening access” in particular – in terms of research, Cardiff is the no. 1 Welsh HEI by a long way, but when it comes to this (apparently crucial) widening access criterion for HEFCW approval, I’d have though that e.g. Glamorgan (which takes a large proprtion of it’s intake from the sort of groups that the “widening access” agenda is targetted at) would do extremely well. But will HEI’s be judged on what they already do (in which case Glamorgan could justify high fees where Cardiff might need to do more to satisfy the secret targets that HEFCW presumably have in mind…), or will they be looking for how things will improve in the future (in which case Glamorgan will have to work hard as it is starting from a “better position”)….

  3. i assume that by forcing the students to look at the cost to themselves, they might consider whether the benefit of their degree is worth the money.

  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    The current lack of transparency behind setting the level of Welsh university fees is troubling, particularly in that the academics who teach and develop courses are out of the loop. It is difficult to read what is going on.

    The processes driving this could include: (i) a genuine, very strong, commitment to ensuring access to university education from all sectors of society; (ii) a genuine commitment to ensuring high quality in higher education; and (iii) a desire by the Welsh Government to avoid paying the extra funding that fees close to £9000 p.a. would require. It’s impossible for us on the outside to judge which of these apply.

    Historically, the university colleges in Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Bangor, and the University of Wales that they formed, were founded to make university education available widely across society. The University of Wales was called “the working man’s university” at the end of the 19th century for this reason; it made no distinction on religious grounds, and gave equal rights to women. So there has been a very long awareness in Wales of the need for open access to universities.

    And I do wish Peter would refrain from calling Wales “The Principality”.

    • telescoper Says:


      I didn’t realise that you disliked the word “Principality”. Now that I do, I shall try to make sure I use it more often.



      • Bryn Jones Says:


        I’ll expect regular references from you to “the Principality” and to singing “God Bless the Prince of Wales”.

        (There is actually a discussion that could be had about what the word “principality” means in relation to Wales or parts of Wales.)


      • Peter,

        I think that most Welsh people (or, at least those with any national pride) find the term “Principality” rather insulting as it is a reminder of our subservience to the mighty English…

      • telescoper Says:

        Better than Cornwall. That’s only a Duchy. At least you’ve got a Prince.

        Anyway, Monaco is a Principality isn’t it? I don’t hear them complaining in Monte Carlo…

  5. Phil Uttley Says:

    Trains are a bad example of privatisation (doomed to failure) because as a customer, if I want to get from A to B using the train I don’t have any choice about what operator I use, and since operators share tracks then bad performers can also impact upon good ones. The only way to do it properly would be to allow multiple tracks between destinations, clearly not an efficient way to do things! So rail is something that is probably best kept in public ownership. Then again, British Rail was a total shower…but at least it was cheap! Utilities were generally good examples of privatisation from the point of view of customers, although there is still the issue of infrastructure funding which does not seem to work well. But one only has to look at the debacle with the still-nationalised water supply in Northern Ireland to see how badly-run public utilities can be. For Universities I think the jury is obviously still out, but the system is already not a true free-market because of the tuition fee cap.

  6. Rhodri Evans Says:

    It does seem troubling that WAG/HEFCW’s process is so opaque. It would be interesting to know what guidelines the Welsh HEIs were given on what criteria they needed to meet in terms of widening access and “improving student experience” to satisfy WAG/HEFCW’s demands. And, whilst we are on that matter, is HEFCW acting under WAG’s instructions in scrutinising the HEIs’ proposals? I assume they are, given that they are a QUANGO, but how much autonomy does HEFCW have from Leighton Andrews and WAG?

    As Bryn says, HEI in Wales has a long history (over 100 years) of being accessible to the “common man” in Wales, partly because we have never had a social elite in Wales, the social elite have always (for the last 800 years at least) been our English masters. Aberrystwyth was founded by miners saving their pennies over many many year; and from the start, colleges in the old University of Wales were open to all, regardless of religion, colour or creed.

    If Welsh HEIs are not allowed to charge £9,000, and WAG stickss to its plans to pay Welsh students’ fees above £3,300 (or whatever the figure is), then it doesn’t take an accountant to realise that here is going to be a massive shortfall in HEI funding in Wales, as Wales will not receive enough income from English students choosing to study in Wales to pay for the subsidy they are promising Welsh students. Maybe they can recoup the funding gap by closing all pre-18 schools, and just allow pre-18 year olds to be home schooled (I suggest “Teletubbies” for the 5+ age group and “Horizon” for the <5 year olds).

    Unless we crown Peter the new Prince of Wales, I too agree with Bryn that Peter should stop referring to us as "The Principality". Come the revolution….

  7. Rhodri Evans Says:

    And, as for the “university” (I use the term advisedly) of Glamorgan charging more than the London School of Economics, it just shows what an absurd World we live in.

  8. Wales has one really really good university (respect to Aberyswth (sp) and Swansea aswell) but Cardiff really should be competing with others at the top end of the russell group and I can’t see how it can do this without charging £9k a year!

    Scrap the funding for Welsh students in England, it’s absurd.

    Once again, silly welsh socialism spoils the day (and I’m welsh!)

  9. It is also a desperately unfair system. I consider myself Welsh through heritage, however I was born and brought up in England. I can effectively represent my country in the FIFA World Cup (If I or Wales were ever good enough to get there) but I’m open for a shafting when it comes to education. This means that I recieve less funding and pay more than someone born in Wales who studies in another country! Often by a substantial magnitude due to the attractive bursaries on offer at English university – Welsh born students effectively pick up two cheques – they’re laughin’. Such a complicated system that is frankly absurd and destined to fail. I just hope the dinosaurs in the WAG/HEFCW realise this sooner rather than later.

    Apologies for the rant

  10. telescoper Says:

    Among the many absurdities of the WAG’s policy is that it is imposing strict criteria that Welsh universities wishing to charge fees must obey. It is however to pay £9K per student for Welsh students to attend English universities whether the latter follow the WAG’s criteria or not.

    I think the policy makes no sense. Leighton Andrews defends it by saying it’s “a manifesto commitment”. However, the WAG elections
    happened only a few weeks ago and if it’s a manifesto commitment only because Welsh Labour decided to make it so. Anyway, commitment or not, I think it’s wrong-headed for the WAG to cut funds from Welsh universities in order to provide a generous subsidy to English ones, which is what the policy does.

  11. Yes, poor old Cornwall is only a duchy. And they’re lumbered with the same jug eared sponger as Wales as their duke.

    I suspect the history of Monaco’s title of Principality is very different from that of Wales. Or, maybe the complaints just can’t be heard above the sound of the roulette wheels & one armed bandits.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Yes, “prince” in the case of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, means somebody who has a status inferior to a monarch (his mother in this case).

      However, 13th century Welsh rulers called themselves “tywysog” – the Welsh word for a leader – and in Latin “princeps”, to signify a status above the multiplicity of regional kings (brenin, rex) that Wales had seen previously. The title was meant to signify a ruler with a status above that of regional kings, much as the term “high king” was used in Ireland. The title has universally been translated into English as “prince”. This princeps was regarded by the kings of England as a prince with a status below that of the king of England, and the 13th century saw attempts by the English kings to get the Welsh rulers to accept a status that was subordinate to the king of England, much as they attempted with the Scottish king towards the end of that century.

      The refusal of the Welsh leaders to submit to the king of England, except as a temporary measure immediately following military defeat, led to repeated conflict and the eventual killing of two Welsh princes in 1282 and 1283. Their families were taken into captivity to prevent them having children, and the title “prince of Wales” was given unilaterally by the king of England to his eldest son after that, as a title subordinate to the king of England. It is in that tradition that Prince Charles is prince of Wales.

      Prince Charles did learn to speak some Welsh in the 1960s (to his great credit). He has occasionally over the past few decades spoken a little in Welsh when giving speeches. However, he has the same strange accent when speaking Welsh that he uses when speaking English.

    • Phillip,

      I guess it depends on your political point of view whether you think the title ‘Prince of Wales” is an intentional put-down or not. The last native prince of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) was killed in 1282 in Cilmeri in mid Wales, and Edward the 1st in 1301 started the tradition of naming the first born son of the English king as “prince of Wales” – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_of_wales#History

      For most Welsh patriots/nationalists, the title *is* a put-down/insult, a reminder of our defeat by and subordination to the English. I remember Charles being invested as prince of Wales in 1969, and I seem to remember quite a large amount of support for it (with some opposition, which I was unaware of at the time being only a small child). We had to learn to sing “God bless the Prince of Wales” in school, and were given mugs and various momentos as part of the propoganda.

      As Bryn mentioned, Charles did learn *some* Welsh; spending a whole academic term at Aberystwyth University in the lead-up to his 1969 investiture, during which time he learnt about 4-5 lines of Welsh. Having seen film of him saying his lines of Welsh during his 1969 investiture, I agree with Bryn that his accent was certainly strange, and difficult for any Welsh speaker to understand. To my knowledge, he was the first English “prince” to learn any Welsh, and I doubt his son William, who lives in Ynys Mon, knows any Welsh.

      I have not heard Charles utter any Welsh since 1969, and apart from buying a cottage in West Wales recently with Camilla, his trips to Wales are rare. His title is, to all intents and purposes, just a title and does not indicate any real involvement in Wales. I think today most Welsh people are indifferent to him and his “fake” title.

    • Phillip,

      I think only Charles’ driver knows the way from his Highgrove estate to Wales. I’m sure jug ears couldn’t find Wales if left to his own devices.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      It’s difficult to know whether the use of the title by the British monarchy today is a deliberate put down, or whether it is done out of total ignorance. It could be the latter.

      I’ll add a comment to Rhodri’s description of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as the last Welsh prince of Wales. That is the standard description, and it is just what the supporters of the British monarchy would want. However, the title was inherited by Llywelyn’s brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, after the killing of Llywelyn, and Dafydd did rule as prince of Wales for several months before he was captured and executed. There were later Welsh claimants who did control local territory in Wales, and one in exile in France. Then there was Owain Glyndwr who ruled as an independent prince of Wales in the first years of the 15th century. So I would never describe Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as the last Welsh prince of Wales: there were others.

  12. […] universities in Wales is to charge annual tuition fees of, you guessed it, £9K. This is despite recent reports that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) was set to refuse permission to set […]

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