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Written Statement - Online Digital Learning Working Group – Written Statement and Terms of Reference

Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

I announced to the Higher Education Leadership Foundation in December last year that I intended to establish a working group to examine the potential for online digital learning and how the Welsh Government can support the higher education sector in this growing field.

I am delighted that Andrew Green, National Librarian of Wales, has agreed to chair the working group.  

Andrew Green has been the Librarian of the National Library of Wales since1998.  His previous career was spent in universities in Wales and England, and for many years he served on the Council of Aberystwyth University.  In 2011-12 he was a member of the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group that recommended the establishment of 'Hwb', the all-Wales learning platform for schools and colleges.

Other members will be:

- Dr Dafydd Trystan 

 Registrar of Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol

Dr Dafydd Trystan is Registrar of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.  He has led on-line learning projects in the Social Sciences on behalf of the Higher Education Academy and is actively involved with the development of Y Porth, the Coleg Cymraeg’s e-learning portal which hosts Welsh-medium university modules and open-access material to enhance learning through technology. Dr Trystan also chairs a Cycle Training Social Enterprise, Cycle Training Wales; and is a board member of TooGoodToWaste and Sustrans Cymru.


- Dr Bela Arora 

 Newport Graduate School

Dr Bela Arora is an academic and manager in higher education with experience of lecturing, research and policy development in some of the UK's top higher education institutions. She was responsible for developing one of the UK's first online Postgraduate Certificates in Developing Professional Practice in Higher Education. Bela currently oversees the postgraduate research experience at Newport Graduate School and is the Chair of the Pedagogic Research Group on Learning Spaces.


- Professor Dylan Jones-Evans

 University of Wales

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans is Director of Enterprise and Innovation Education at the University of Wales and visiting professor of entrepreneurship at Turku University in Finland. He is the founder of the Wales Fast Growth Fifty - the annual barometer of entrepreneurship within Welsh business - and is currently leading a major review of business finance for the Welsh Government.


- Rob Humphreys 

  Director of the Open University in Wales

Rob Humphreys is the Director of the Open University in Wales, having held posts previously at Swansea University and as Director for Wales of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education. He was appointed by the Minister of Education to the first and second ‘Rees Reviews’ of higher education funding of universities in Wales. Rob was later appointed to the Independent Review of Higher Education in Wales and chaired the independent review of governance in Further Education. He is currently a member of the Silk Commission on Devolution.


- Professor Patricia Price 

  Cardiff University

Professor Patricia Price is Pro Vice-Chancellor, Student Experience & Academic Standards. She is responsible for the University’s programmes of study, its academic standards and the quality of the student experience. Her specific responsibilities include oversight of the development of the University’s education strategy, its implementation and monitoring; the quality of the student experience at Cardiff; oversight of the University Graduate College and the University’s widening access activities.


- Sarah Porter 

  Head of Innovation, Jisc (formally known as Joint Information Systems Committee)

Sarah Porter is Head of Innovation at Jisc. In her current role, Sarah plans and leads the Jisc’s innovation strategy which supports the post-compulsory education sector to embrace the potential of IT to enhance learning, teaching, research and institutional efficiency. Sarah has led the Jisc’s innovation agenda for eight years, after having directed Jisc’s e-learning programmes for four years. Prior to joining Jisc, Sarah worked in universities, in local and national roles.


- Jo Caulfield 

  University of Bangor; former President of Bangor University Students’ Union

Jo Caulfield is currently working in teaching and learning enhancement at Bangor University, with a focus on student voice and engagement. Her previous role was as President of Bangor Students' Union and member of NUS Wales' National Executive Committee.  Currently, Jo is working in partnership with academic departments and the students' union in developing discipline-specific approaches to enhancing teaching and learning through collaboration with students.


- David Jones

 Principal and Chief Executive of Deeside College

David has played a leading role in the development of Deeside College, which has included Grade 1 inspection outcomes and successful mergers with the Welsh College of Horticulture in 2009 and Coleg Llysfasi in 2010. He has recently been appointed at Principal/Chief Executive (Designate) of Coleg Cambria, the new college that will be formed following the merger between Deeside College and Yale College, Wrexham in August 2013.

Welsh Universities are already engaged in a range of activities designed to maximise the benefits afforded by advances in learning technologies.  In seeking to respond to the cultural shift in the expectations of students, universities are eager to engage through the latest online teaching methods.  Globally, the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represents a new internet-based model for volume participation in higher education.


Such ventures are not new - the Open University has been offering open source material for some time.  More recently, however, a series of MOOC ventures has been launched by some of the most prestigious global academic institutions such as Stanford, MiT and Harvard.  Udacity and Coursera (which includes the University of Edinburgh) are among the pioneers for a new brand of for-profit online higher education providers.  In just one year these new ventures have attracted over $100m of private venture capital investment. Whilst the long-term sustainability of such ventures may be open to question, the reach and quality of such disruptive innovations may have profound implications for the delivery of higher education in Wales. At the end of 2012 the Open University announced the launch of Futurelearn, with partners including Cardiff University, to produce a UK-based platform for massive open online courses.


Our aim is to ensure that Wales is well placed to continue to prosper in the face of such developments.  The Working Group will be tasked with examining the potential for MOOCs and whether the Welsh higher education sector is sufficiently prepared to meet these challenges.  I intend that its remit should go wider, however, to consider also the opportunities and challenges presented by the development of open educational resources more broadly.


The terms of reference for the Working Group will be to advise the Welsh Government on:

  • the potential competitive threat posed by global technology-based developments to the higher education sector in Wales;
  • the potential opportunities afforded by technological development for the Welsh higher education sector at a time of constrained public expenditure;
  • to what extent the Welsh higher education sector is working collectively to bring economies of scale to maximise the opportunities afforded; and
  • to what extent technological development may provide a platform to increase participation in part-time and full-time higher education, again in a period of constrained public spending. 
The Group will begin its work in March.  I have asked Andrew Green to report to me by the end of September this year.