The new post-16 regulator for Wales took one step further to being established this week, as it passed the first stage of scrutiny in the Senedd. The Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee published their Stage 1 Report, and the Welsh Government’s Minister has committed to a number of amendments.
From my perspective, the most welcome is the commitment to finally including learner voice as a strategic duty for the new Commission for Tertiary Education that the Bill will create. This is a positive step from Jeremy Miles, the Education Minister, and we are pleased that he has listened to our calls, as well as those of voices from across the sector.
We are disappointed that more of the CYPE recommendations have not been brought forward. Like the Committee, “we want the Bill to be more ambitious”. Colleges and universities have long had two student representatives on their governing bodies, HEFCW has a space on its council, as well as on its sub-committees. We were pleased that groups as diverse as the Welsh Local Government Association, the Children’s Commissioner and the QAA supported our calls for the same provision on the commission.
We are not calling for this simply to protect students’ interests – student and learner voice has contributed to the sector, nationally and institutionally for decades, and improved it massively. It is not just a loss to students, it is a loss to the commission and our education system. It’s a shame the minister doesn’t seem to recognise that, despite the repeated statements from evidence givers to the committee, particularly from Neath Port Talbot College.
We are also disappointed that the minister is sticking to the plan that learner and worker members will be “associate members” with no voting rights. Again, NPTC, the CYPE committee and others have made very strong arguments about why all commission members should have equal voting rights. That the minister is worried about conflicts of interest is again a failure to recognise the true value that students bring to governing bodies. These are mature relationships, based on compromise, clarity and consensus.
Finally, the lack of movement on the protection of students is also a concern. Not only would we like to see a registration condition relating to the health, welfare and safety of students enrolled at a provider (to include matters of harassment, sexual misconduct and mental health), when it comes to course changes and student transfers there was a real opportunity to properly reform this area, ensuring a single, straight-forward process that students and learners could rely on for peace of mind. Too many cases in recent years have seen students and learners failed in these circumstances, and better processes could give clarity for everyone.
There are many parts of the Bill that we think are positive, forward-thinking, and reflective of what the Welsh Government can do at its best. But in terms of how the Bill seems to see students, it is sadly stuck in the past. I have always been proud of the relationship NUS Wales has with the sector in Wales, and the government.
In his article on Wonkhe, the Minister stated that, “it’s not enough to just imagine a future where we break down the barriers between sectors, institutions and students, we need to make it happen”. For students unfortunately, this Bill does not yet succeed.