'THE Campus Live' speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language.
Diolch, and many thanks for the invitation to speak with you this morning.
As you can see, I have taken the title of this session ‘beyond Westminster’ rather literally, and instead of being with you in london i am here in my ministerial office at welsh government headquarters in central Cardiff.
But I do get the benefit of great views here.
If I look out of the window to my right i’m able to see the royal welsh college of music and drama – although unfortunately the pleasing sounds don’t carry the 50 or so yards – and if i look to my left i can see Cardiff University’s Sir Martin Evans building, named after one of Wales’s nobel laureates.
So, whilst I am studiously adhering to the arm’s length principles, I can still keep an eye on the goings on at two of our world-leading institutions!
Seriously, the physical proximity of independent higher education and government, and indeed our national museum and cardiff city hall right here in cathays park, is a reflection of Wales’s “engaged democracy” tradition.
Universities, learning societies, hospitals, theatres, libraries and so much more founded by the contributions of miners, quarry workers and working men and woman across the nation.
And now into a new phase and polity, where we have our own national democratic institutions such as the Senedd and government, directly accountable to the people of Wales.
We have seen through the last eighteen months how our shared public service ethos in Wales – and I include our universities’ sense of civic engagement in that – has shaped our response to the pandemic.
Across our institutions, and especially from staff and students, we have seen an immense contribution.
Our universities have opened their doors to house the homeless and NHS frontline staff, they have opened community testing centres, supported schools and colleges with online delivery and training and opened their world-class clinical training facilities to test icu interventions for covid patients.
They have developed ambulance cleaning machines and waste-water monitoring systems to track community infection rates; their data has supported governments and the NHS emergency planning and the research community and our students have looked out for each other and their communities, with many students working on the frontline in the NHS, police and as volunteers across our communities.
This challenging period has tested us all.
However, it has also proved that the welsh approach to partnership, community and the public good - allied to our size and agility - allows us to work together to keep Wales safe - to keep Wales learning.
Therefore, today I want to share with you how we will move forward in that spirit, facing the post-pandemic future with confidence, boldness and radicalism.
That we will be inspired, but not constrained by the historic mission and ethos of our tertiary education sector;
That we will – for the first time ever - enshrine in law strategic duties and purposes for our entire tertiary education sector;
That we will dissolve HEFCW, but at the same time give up ministerial powers, and create a new national steward for universities, colleges, sixth forms, apprenticeships, research and innovation;
And how in the spirit of social partnership, we will require providers to address how they will involve learners in decisions on all aspects related to their learning, interests and concerns – right across all of tertiary education.
But first - before detailing the ambitions of our recently published tertiary education and research bill – if I may be so bold, I would like to address the very premise of times higher’s title for this session:
‘beyond Westminster: an alternative approach’.
(perhaps you can see why I’ve not joined you today now!)
It is interesting to note how my and Wales’s approach is described as an “alternative” to Westminster.
On one hand, of course it is.
Cooperation not competition;
Student grants for all, not just accumulating debt.
A geniuinly reciprocal international exchange programme.
And much more.
But, the title suggests – perhaps unintentionally - that Westminster and English policy is the norm, the template, the agreed masterplan…
And therefore, by implication, that Welsh policy – or indeed any other – is alien, atypical, an alternative to the consensus.
But let me be clear.
When it comes to education policy - it is not us that is different, deviating from the norm, or defining a whole new course.
The Welsh approach in taking a strategic and system-wide view of tertiary education is one we have in common with New Zealand and Scotland for example.
As we saw last week in the commons, the UK Government’s approach to competition not collaboration between colleges and universities was criticised by recent former ministers.
Our approach to ensuring all university students – full and part time, undergrad or postgrad – are eligible for student support grants has far more in common with international approaches than it does to England’s view of students as customers and consumers.
And lastly, on this, our commitment to a truly bilingual system, supporting students, apprentices, researchers and academics to pursue their learning and activities in both welsh and English, is similar to our friends in the Basque Country or Canada for example.
I should however stress that operating in a UK-wide and European context brings many benefits to citizens, institutions and academics across our four nations.
We have much to learn from each other, we have many opportunities to work in partnership, and we could do more to respect difference but recognise shared ambitions.
So in that spirit of sharing best practice, let me quote a former minister on the issue of tertiary education planning and strategy.
“there is a bewildering array of regulatory and funding bodies out there in the landscape… (we need to) move to a joined-up system of regulation and funding for all post-16 education.”
That isn’t my predecessor as welsh education minister discussing our plans for a commission for tertiary education and research, although obviously the sentiment would easily fit.
It was Jo Johnson, speaking in the lords during a debate on the UK Government’s skills bill.
I know that Lord Johnson is joining you on a panel later this morning to discuss UK-China engagement, so I hope he will take it in the spirit it’s intended.
But he has a very good point, and one I completely agree with.
Which is why we are establishing the commission.
As the national steward for tertiary education and research, the commission will be responsible for its funding, oversight and quality.
For the first time ever, we will bring together in one place: Wales’ higher and further education, local authority maintained school sixth forms, apprenticeships, adult community learning, as well as responsibility for research and innovation.
The commission will take a coherent and system-wide view, supporting learners throughout their lives with the knowledge and skills to succeed, and securing strong independent and diverse providers making significant contributions to national wellbeing and prosperity.
As i mentioned earlier, in the bill to establish the commission, currently going through the senedd, we set out nine strategic duties.
Together, they provide the long-term strategic planning framework for what this valuable and varied sector, including universities, needs to deliver - as we recover, renew and reform.
These duties – which I view as the strategic purposes for the commission, for the entire sector – include life-long learning, civic mission, a global outlook, as well as continuous improvement, collaboration and coherence, and equality of opportunity.
As I said earlier, our values and traditions inspire this approach – but they are there to help us all face the future and meet new challenges.
I believe we are taking a radical approach in giving these duties and values a prominent legislative authority.
They provide a clarity of purpose, ensuring a relentless focus on the success and wellbeing of learners, of all ages, across all settings and in all communities.
I as minister will be will be required to prepare and publish a statement setting out the national strategic priorities for tertiary education, research and innovation.
In conjunction with the strategic duties, this will guide the commission’s own strategic plan, and how it functions and allocates funding.
The commission, working with the sector, will then shape the system through investment, by connecting providers and sharing information, enabling it to take a strategic view and ensure learners grow as engaged, enterprising and educated citizens of Wales.
That idea of citizenship is also at the heart of our new national school curriculum, ensuring a connect across the pre and post 16 sectors, taking forward our welsh approach to combining knowledge, skills and experiences.
So, why are we doing this now?
Much of the primary legislation in relation to higher and further education in Wales is decades old.
It pre-dates democratic devolution, higher education expansion, significant recent changes in economic and career patterns and the revolution in technology that continues to influence the way we learn, live and work.
And of course, before we could have possibly imagined the sort of challenges brought on by COVID-19.
As a Labour government in Wales, we know that bold action is required to narrow educational inequalities, expand opportunities, and raise standards.
To deliver on this, then it is clear to me that we must break down barriers, secure easier learner pathways and continue to invest in research and innovation.
The establishment of the commission will, for the first time, provide Wales with a national steward that oversees the whole of the tertiary education sector.
The commission will understands sector performance, set and monitor strategic and operational priorities, and distribute funds in a fully informed way, and in accordance with strategic and statutory responsibilities.
The arrangements we are putting in place through this bill will help shape a diverse and dynamic sector that supports learners throughout their lives, delivering for communities, employers and the nation as a whole.
I hope I might have another opportunity at another time to share our ideas and proposals on outcome agreements, learner engagement code, our international learning exchange programme, sector wide principles on quality, lifelong learning and much more… but i hope i have been able to give you a snapshot of our ambitions and reforms.
To conclude, iIwould like to place on record once again my thanks to the efforts of our universities, students and staff in Wales over the last eighteen months.
Working within Wales, with colleagues across the UK and internationally they have been critical in every aspect of our response to the pandemic, and in seeing our way to the future.
I joked earlier about the intimacy of academic, government and civic life in Wales.
However, I am convinced that it is our very size and scale that will ensure our future success.
And we can achieve even more for our citizens and communities, using that size and agility to our advantage, by avoiding obstructive competition, streamlining roles and responsibilities and empowering collaboration and diversity.
So, yes somewhere ‘beyond Westminster’ we are shaping a sector and system – working in partnership – that brings together universities, colleges and other providers together rather letting them fight it out with each other.
Whether or not you think that is “alternative”, I hope I have described the level of our ambition and that i think these reforms are essential to providing our post-16 education sector with the platform it needs to face the future.
Diolch yn fawr, thank you.