Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education
Post-compulsory education and training is critical in improving lives and well-being, and is essential to individual and national prosperity. This will be needed more than ever, alongside quality research, as we come through and emerge from these challenging times.
The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill gives us the tools to ensure an even stronger mutual relationship between citizens, communities, researchers and providers. It would provide opportunity for a system that can be clearly understood and communicated with much greater clarity – ensuring high quality options and outcomes for our citizens.
The challenges we are facing because of Covid-19 mean that the First Minister and I have reluctantly agreed to postpone the introduction of the Bill.
However, this Government is clear that the Bill is a very high priority which, we would like to see put forward as soon as possible by the next Government following the Senedd elections in 2021. The Welsh Government will be publishing the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill in draft for consultation as soon as possible and I would welcome scrutiny from the Senedd to ensure we can develop cross-party support, and wider civic support, for these reforms as we move towards the next Senedd term.
This was not an easy decision to make, and one I wish we did not have to make. With another education bill being introduced and the constraint on resources brought about by Covid-19, we have concluded that the Bill introduction is postponed. This is further compounded by the unwillingness of the UK Government to extend the Brexit transition period which will require us to divert significant legal resources in the autumn term to deal with the legislative impact of that decision.
I remain convinced that the reforms that we have set out, building on Professor Hazelkorn’s proposals, are vital to a successful and sustainable future for learners of all ages, our economy, colleges and universities and all those who care about an educated and engaged democracy.
The challenges created for our economy and education sector as a result of Covid-19 mean that we must work together to take a more strategic, coherent, and efficient approach to overseeing tertiary education and research, under the auspices of a single Commission, with a clear remit to shape a system that works for the people of Wales and the Welsh economy.
We cannot afford to postpone this reform indefinitely. The current crisis creates a new urgency to ensure clear, coherent and relevant learning and skills opportunities for people of all ages.
The new normal in tertiary education will not and cannot be the same as the past. The crisis is already profoundly changing higher and further education. It is changing the expectations of students. The old normal will no longer do. Now is the time to think bigger and bolder about how our tertiary education sector can maximise public value, with a new unified Commission at the helm.
The Welsh Government has already worked closely with our stakeholders in developing the Bill. Publishing it in draft will provide us with the opportunity to examine the detailed policy proposals and determine the full impact of those proposals, to listen to the views of our stakeholders and create legislation that works for the sector and takes into account the future context in which the sector will need to operate as a result of Covid-19.
I recognise that legislation can only go so far in taking forward the cultural reforms proposed by the Hazelkorn review and the way to support and monitor performance by the Weingarten Review; this is a much more complex and lengthy process. It is one which we will continue to develop with the help of our sector colleagues and the PCET Change Board.
We will continue to develop the vision for the PCET Sector alongside the draft Bill. I would like to place on record my thanks to all those, particularly my officials, who have worked tirelessly over recent years to get us so far. As with all reforms, it has met with conservatism from some quarters, but we have built a strong consensus for a way forward.
I look forward to working with our stakeholders and the Senedd as we consult on the draft Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill over the coming months.