LIVE: Delivering Diamond: The future of HE in Wales



  • Concluding thoughts – constructive criticism

    In Q&A we move onto a frank set of questions and answers about the limited extent to which reforms to higher education funding can really transform social and economic opportunity in Wales. Gareth Rees points out that it is only a small part of the wider challenge, and that even bigger questions will need to be answered about degree apprenticeships and high quality vocational routes from schools into colleges and on into universities. “We don’t understand those progression routes very well”, argues Gareth.

    “There are many other things in the Welsh economy that need to be changed for investment in human capital through education to come to fruit” – governments are always more willing to intervene in education rather than the “economy proper”; perhaps too much.

    Cerys points out that the culture in universities can however be transformed to facilitate social inclusion and exchange across Wales – universities should make themselves more visible and more open to the most impoverished communities. This is a particular challenge in the most remote areas of Wales where universities are often geographically distant.

    Nonetheless, our panelists, and the room more generally, appear to be exceptionally welcoming of the Diamond reforms. That concludes today’s conference, and it’s been a fantastic morning of debate and discussion on a very interesting turn in UK higher education policy.

    Big thanks to the Open University in Wales, especially Hannah Pudner and Michelle Matheron, for all their work putting this event together.

    7 years ago
  • Addressing inequalities in school attainment and access

    Last but certainly not least, we have a presentation from Gareth Rees of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD), on participation in higher education in Wales. The findings clearly show that changing the financial support available for students will only have a limited effect on widening participation. What really matters is attainment in schools, and in particular, the vast disparity in attainment and HE participation between different schools in Wales. Below is a graph of the odds of students in different Welsh schools accessing higher education.


    Gareth argues that a significant implication here is that part-time student support can make a massive difference as it can make-up for disadvantage and disparity in access for immediate school-leavers. Those who missed the opportunity for early entry can try again later if part-time provision is more accessible.

    This also means that vocational routes and further education colleges are essential not only for ‘up-skilling’ but also for widening access into academic higher education, again by compensating for disparate attainment in the schools system.

    7 years ago
  • Final panel: Meeting the needs of Wales

    Our final panel includes Cerys Furlong, Director of the Learning and Work Institute (Wales); Simon Pirotte, Principal of Bridgend College; and Gareth Rees of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD).

    Cerys is first to speak, and remarks that Diamond has done a remarkable job of taking the poison out of what was until quite recently a very tricky issue in Welsh politics and public life. Yet there are still vast challenges to address in the relationship between education and work in Wales, including an ageing population, the end of jobs for life, stagnating wages, terrible workplace productivity, Brexit, and more.

    Many more people are ‘phasing’ out of the labour market into retirement and changing career paths, and education needs to reflect this. We need to think hard about how higher education can be accessible to those stuck in the self-employed and precarious economy, or those in unproductive and unsustainable sectors. The ELQ question here is crucial – many need to retrain at the same level but a different subject area. Many of those in the aforementioned sectors can be debt averse or wary of universities, seeing them as out of reach or out of touch. They are also more likely to be disabled and need specialist support.

    Against this backdrop, implementing the Hazelkorn recommendations is absolutely urgent and essential. Diamond and Hazelkorn can not be seen separately, and higher and further education cannot be pitted against each other.


    Simon Pirotte of Bridgend College: “I’m a massive fan of the Diamond recommendations” and applauds how Diamond listened to a variety of stakeholders.

    FE is “all about widening participation” – doesn’t just believe in second chances, but third, fourth, fifth and more. Financial hardship is a significant reason for non-continuation and Diamond really will address this, particularly if the maintenance grant is up-front. However, as Pirotte points out, there is a strange contrast with pay for apprentices – HE student support will now be significantly higher is it’s at the National Living Wage. Pirotte has some concerns about restrictions on ELQ access, but is glad to see that the matter is out for consultation. There will also be more collaboration with Coleg Cymraeg in FE, which will be welcome.

    As already touched on though, there is the left-over matter of higher vocational education, degree apprenticeships and sub-degree level 4 and 5 study. There is a danger of nurturing competition for pots of money for higher vocational and apprenticeship education funding – colleges and universities can’t simply squabble over it, but must work strategically in developing a functional system.

    7 years ago
  • Delivery models and keeping graduates in Wales

    More discussion on delivery models and moving away from the ‘traditional’ forms of delivery.

    Fflur points out that the Hazelkorn recommendations are very important in this regard, as it suggested creating a new body that look at these problems strategically. A new body would also be vital for ensuring that Wales can thrive whilst taking a very different approach to England’s marketised system, and ensure students are at the heart of it.

    Natasha: the way that people work and learn is changing, and whilst many employers and educators offer part-time options, there are questions about how flexible some of that actually is. Diamond is an opportunity to look beyond just a full-time/part-time dichotomy, and think more creatively about forms of part-time study.

    Ioan points out that nonetheless, real progress on this issue will require movement in England too given its relative size to Wales.


    We have a question on incentivising graduates to remain in Wales, which was touched on by the Diamond Review but no firm proposals were made. Fflur responds that the state of the economy in Wales is particularly important here – noone has worked out a workable system yet. Students want to go where the jobs are – that’s their fundamental interest. But we’d also like graduates to remain in Wales, so it’s going to be difficult.

    Ioan notes the high numbers of Welsh students, particularly high achievers at A Level, who are choosing to move away – too often the investment made by the Welsh government in schools and universities is being lost when students and graduates move away.

    “You can’t really hold it against student for going to quality employment” says Natasha, and so this is where the Diamond Review’s success is intrinsically linked to the health of the Welsh economy.

    7 years ago
  • Panel 2: Widening access – can Diamond deliver?

    Our next panel will look at widening access and whether Diamond can succeed in delivering a more socially just higher education system, and we are now chaired by Hannah Pudner, Assistant Director at OU Wales.

    First up is Ioan Matthews, Director of Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, the Welsh language medium higher education college. Appropriately, Ioan is speaking to us in both Welsh and England, and thanks to the magic of simultaneous translation he can switch between the two.

    Ioan thanks the Diamond Panel for successfully coming up with a new system that has brought together multiple stakeholders and looks set to create a sustainable system. However, there are many questions to consider for funding accessible higher education in a bi-lingual country, and we often need to remind ourselves where Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol came from.

    The Coleg was set up in 2011 after a long campaign for Welsh medium higher education, for which there is a clear and growing demand in Wales.

    Diamond has clearly recommended £5.8 million per year to enable higher education institutions and Coleg Cymraeg to work together to specifically deliver Welsh language higher learning and provide choice for students across the country. This is very welcome, but there are still challenges ahead, particularly for funding Welsh language learning in further education and for more atypical routes in higher learning.

    The Coleg is now developing a strategic plan alongside universities in order to outline how the new funding will be spent. This, as a result of the Diamond Review, will give the Coleg a more sustainable footing in the years ahead.


    Next is Fflur Elyn, President of NUS Wales. She welcomes the opportunity to talk at length about NUS’s position on higher education funding. She restates NUS’s national commitment to ‘free education’, and argues that this is a worthwhile investment for society across the UK. However, NUS Wales recognises that the funding is not available in Wales to deliver free education and that the current funding system is unsustainable. NUS Wales research showed just how many students, particularly those from disadvantaged areas, are frequently struggling to cover their living costs, and that this was damaging their wellbeing. Many disadvantaged students are either in private debt or taking on part-time work alongside their studies, causing massive anxiety and difficulties. This is why NUS Wales focused their efforts on maintenance support for students to ensure they can go from day-to-day making ends meet.

    NUS Wales welcome the general trajectory of Diamond and particularly tying maintenance support to the National Living Wage and the universal grant, but it is important that maintenance continues to rise in line with wages and inflation. Also welcome commitments on part-time and Welsh language education.

    However, NUS Wales are concerned that although students will be better supported, they will also be taking on more debt, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Fflur is also concerned about the reduction in the income threshold for access to grants, and will be looking closely a specific report for student parents and student carers.

    Finally, higher education is “only part of the post-compulsory sector”, and colleges need to be commensurately funded alongside universities in order to have a strong post-compulsory education system.


    Finally, we have Natasha Davies from Chwarae Teg, a Welsh gender equality charity. She points out that there are many challenges for gender equality in Welsh higher education, including imbalances in subject-mix, graduate earnings, and support for student parents and carers.

    Natasha notes that 60% of part-time students are women and the commitment to parity for part-time funding is incredibly important for advancing gender equality, who are often using part-time education when returning to work after breaks. Part-time is also vital for up-skilling the workforce in growth sectors in Wales such as engineering which are currently dominated by men and where opportunities need to be opened up for women.

    Linked to this is the ongoing consultation and discussions on support for students with caring and parenting responsibilities, which must interact with funding and support for part-time and flexible learning. This must in turn link through to support in further education.

    Finally, Natasha turns to the role that higher education can play in improving gender equality in wider society – particularly in women’s participation in STEM and in senior leadership roles.

    7 years ago
  • Is the traditional model sustainable?

    Referring to comments by Margaret Phelan arguing for new models of delivery of higher education, our first question asks whether the ‘traditional model’ of three year degrees is prohibitively expensive and thus unsustainable for public funding.

    David Blaney responds that new equivalence of funding for part-time study may address this, as is new investment in degree apprenticeships, and he has hope that things really will change over the next decade or so.

    Margaret refers to the recent report by Alison Wolf on the need for sub-degree higher learning opportunities. The sector “cannot sustain” three-year full time degrees for 18-21 year olds. Diamond gives the government and the sector an opportunity to change, but the Hazelkorn implementations will matter even more. UCU are in favour of an overarching tertiary education body that takes a more strategic view of higher and further education together.

    Sir Emyr remarks that “universities are not always nimble” and that it can be very difficult to get them to change. He hopes that there will be change, but that the “essence” of the university remains for the “training of the mind” and real life-changing opportunities. “Cannot continue the hobby offer” of subjects and courses that do not provide for demand.

    Hywel reflects on the global appeal of the current models of provision by Welsh and UK universities, and that there continues to be global demand for the product on offer. He questions if “we are being too hard on ourselves?”.


    Our next question is from Hugh Jones on the RAB charge, and whether Diamond has made too generous assumptions about it… This is where is gets complicated. David takes on the onerous job of an answer, but describes RAB as “a government magic trick” where changes can be made in the assumptions underlining it to change the result. Its very easy to make RAB more or less expensive, but the incomprehensibility of the RAB means that unpicking it at this time is almost moot.

    Rob Humphreys jumps in at this point to answer on behalf of the panel – describes the question as a “hospital pass”. Regardless of the ins and outs of RAB, he says, Diamond is a good deal for the sector. Many government departments were queuing up for their own slice of the ‘Diamond dividend’.

    7 years ago
  • A sustainable sector? More perspectives

    Next we have Hywel Thomas, PVC Research, Innovation and Engagement at Cardiff University. When it comes to sustainability of research funding, the Welsh sector has several challenges related to Brexit and European funding, and so it is more welcome than ever that Diamond and the Welsh government have a continued commitment to QR funding through HEFCW.

    Welsh universities will have to be “very very aware of the formation of UKRI” and to work out best how to fit into the new UK-wide research body.

    Though research funding may not have been central to the Diamond report, its recommendations in this area are very welcome, as is the Welsh government’s response. However, there is new urgency and new challenges for Welsh research funding as a result of Brexit, that will have to be addressed both in Cardiff and London. The recent £4.7 billion extra for R&D announced in the Autumn Statement is a welcome start, but a “small amount of money” restored from previous cuts.

    Welsh universities sometimes undersell and perhaps undervalue their wider engagement with society, particularly when it comes to research and training skilled professionals.

    Hywel is followed by Margaret Phelan of UCU, who will focus her remarks on part-time funding. This is an opportunity to “get ahead of the rest of the UK”, and Diamond goes someway towards achieving this, but there is further room for improvement in plans for part-time funding and also creating accessible higher education through further education colleges. Like elsewhere in the UK, Welsh HE has not talked enough about accessing level 4 and 5 qualifications – ‘sub-degree’ higher education.

    There is an urgent need for new level 4 and 5 provision to widen access to higher education and to part-time provision, which could boost productivity and the Welsh economy.

    Finally, we finish with Sir Emyr Jones Parry of the Learned Society of Wales, who opens by pointing out that Wales does very well in research and proportionately better than many other countries for so small a nation. The Learned Society is dedicated to promoting Wales and Welsh research, and for supporting those aspects of Welsh scholarship that might be vulnerable: Welsh medium provision, Coleg Genedlaethol, Welsh studies, and other specialist areas.

    The Welsh government has long been reluctant to admit that Welsh universities are at a funding disadvantage compared to those in England, and Wales also faces other disadvantages when it comes to dealing with Brexit and the knock-on impacts of education reform in England. This has a knock-on effect on our global competitive position, particularly post-Brexit, as Irish, Canadian and Australian universities in particular rub their hands in glee at the easier competition for students, funding and talent.

    “It’s not obvious at the moment” how Diamond will ensure that Welsh universities remain globally competitive and globally recognised, and whether HEFCW will the necessary funding available to keep our current level of performance up.

    7 years ago
  • A sustainable HE sector?

    We move to the first of our three panels this morning on the different elements of Diamond, featuring David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW; Hywel Thomas, PVC at Cardiff University; Margaret Phelan of UCU; and Sir Emyr Jones Parry, President of the Learned Society of Wales.

    First up is David Blaney. He says there are considerable challenges in transition for “the numbers” in Diamond, particularly given unpredictable inflation, Westminster government budgeting, and changes in student numbers. The ‘Diamond Dividend’ from the release of the tuition fee grant will be phased over a number of years as students on the current funding system complete their courses. Diamond also predicated its funding on cohorts, not year-by-year, which will require some accounting trickery to make sense of.

    “It’s not going to be easy”.

    There are various challenges for sustainability of the sector in Wales that fall outside of Diamond, chief of which is international student recruitment. Overall, Welsh universities are projected an increase of 10-12% over the next five years, similar to England, and the “vulnerabilities” recently identified by HEFCE in relation to international recruitment also apply to Wales. More universities are also taking on debts for investment, as in England, as this is presenting new challenges for universities in managing their cashflow.

    The sector, though, is blessed with a very able minister who “really gets it” and is determined to secure the best deal for universities.

    7 years ago
  • Brexit and more…

    Williams is asked about the challenges of Brexit. She states that she has been frustrated by the UK government and the Home Office in particular when it comes to reforms to student visas, though she also says that the Department for Education in Whitehall do “get it”.

    Wales, Williams reflects, is in a unique position with Brexit, as the Scottish government’s interests are bound up in their ambitions for independence, and Northern Irish politics is a whole different matter again. Williams and the Welsh government are determined to ensure that Brexit is smooth and orderly and secure the best deal for Wales, but there are challenges afoot.

    Finally, Williams is asked by NUS Wales on reducing the income threshold for full-grant support compared to Diamond’s original proposals. “One thing I’ve learned since moving over to ‘the dark side’, is that those who say there is no money were not lying”, and that reducing the threshold is one of the difficult compromises that needed to be made in order to prioritise funding across the Welsh education system.

    That finishes Williams’ Q&A – “Don’t talk about me behind my back when I’m gone”, she jokes.

    7 years ago
  • Kirsty Williams: “Smart and sustainable” funding

    Williams says that these are “exciting times” to be part of reforms to higher education in Wales. The government’s plans are ambitious, but essential to ensuring that the government delivers for higher education, and that higher education delivers for Wales.

    We now move to questions. First up: “how are things going with the Treasury” in Westminster?

    Williams states that the indicators so far have “been positive” from Whitehall, and she does not anticipate any problems with the Treasury, so felt confident enough to press ahead with the government consultation before getting formal sign-off.

    Our second question is about the Hazelkorn Review and reforming the regulatory landscape in Welsh HE and FE. Williams is frank that her department only has capacity to deal with one issue at a time, but that a decision will be made on Hazelkorn in early January and a public statement made in late January.

    Next up is a question on research funding. Williams states that Diamond’s proposals on research funding are still “very much on the agenda”, but that work on this matter is progressing in collaboration with ministers in other departments and will have some dependence on the Higher Education and Research Bill currently being debated in Westminster.

    Williams: “No one should underestimate the challenges of implementation when it comes to capacity in the Student Loans Company”, and that her postbag is dominated by angry letters about the service currently being provided for many Welsh students. The current system is “unacceptable” to her but she is “confident” that after discussions with the SLC it will be able to deliver the service necessary in time for implementing the new student support system. She adds that officials at the SLC have been working very very hard to ensure things move forward. There are, however, “contingencies”.

    Rob Humphreys jumps in on this point: it is a classic example of the stresses and strains that can be put on a UK-wide organisation in a devolved system. The people of Wales have a stake in the SLC, but it’s only 5% – there is a challenge of scale, and it’s very difficult to prioritise needs and demands from Wales when England owns 85% of the company. Putting Wales at the back of the queue “is frankly unacceptable”.

    Williams, with refreshing frankness, says she is determined to deliver on the Welsh sector’s hopes for Diamond and that she has learned from her colleagues’ experiences in Westminster in Coalition. Doesn’t want anyone to say ‘I knew she wouldn’t do it, she’s a Liberal Democrat’.



    7 years ago
  • Keynote – Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Minister for Education

    Kirsty Williams is now at the podium, remarking that talking about higher education is a welcome relief from responding to the PISA results released yesterday.

    Though the Diamond Review was provoked by the need to make Welsh HE funding sustainable, Williams suggests that there were similarly pressing questions about whether the old funding system was supporting students in the best way possible and directing funding to where it could have the greatest effect.

    The high level principle is “universalism in a progressive system”, which means a mix of universal and means-tested student support funding, creating more ELQ exemptions but not abolishing them completely, and targeting support for those who most need it.

    “Decisions made in Westminster directly and indirectly have an impact on the three other UK nations”, however, English policy “is not the norm from which the other nations deviate”. Rather, Diamond has shown that Wales can “lead the way”, not only in HE policy, but in schools policy too. Williams says that officials from other jurisdictions have already been calling her office about what they can learn from Wales. She hopes that English vice chancellors listen to their Welsh counterparts on how Wales has cooperatively developed a new funding settlement respecting the needs of multiple stakeholders.

    Quoting your-truly, Williams says “Diamond can be a game changer, not only in Wales, but in the UK as a whole”.


    7 years ago
  • Rob Humphreys – core principles of the Diamond Review

    Rob now takes us through some of the core principles of the Diamond Review:

    • Increasing the funding available for student support
    • Parity of funding for part-time and full-time, as well as postgraduates
    • Maintaining and investing in dual-support funding for research
    • Ensuring sustainability in the long-run

    Crucially, Rob states that the system has been set up to be flexible, with opportunities to tinker at the edges and respond to the changing national funding and policy context. This means that various policy problems not yet addressed are still on the table, such as incentivising graduates to remain in Wales, the ins-and-outs of equivalent level qualification funding, the density of funding for part-time study, the capacity of the Student Loans Company to respond to jurisdictional plurality, and more.

    “This is it”, says Rob. This settlement should be a long-term one for Welsh higher education, one that creates a sense of ambition for higher education in Wales and shows public confidence in it.

    7 years ago
  • Diamond really does mean Diamond

    Wonkhe Director Mark Leach kicks off with the quip that ‘Diamond really does mean Diamond’ it would appear, and that the great majority of the review will be implemented.

    Formally opening today’s conference is Rob Humphreys, Director of the Open University in Wales and a member of the Diamond Review. Rob reflects on the “jurisdictional plurality” that now exists in UK higher education and how it’s more important than ever to recognise it.

    Rob starts by reminding us that the funding and finance of higher education is merely a means to and end, and not an end in itself, and sometimes the sector is prone to forget this. Higher education institutions may be independent and autonomous, but they are also “for and of the people”, to quote Kirsty Williams.

    If higher education is a public good, then there must be a shared investment from those that benefit. However, public funding is increasingly scarce, and has many competing demands. This framed the challenges faced by the Diamond Review, as did ongoing changes to student funding in England, which due to its size has an overbearing effect on policymaking in Wales. The review team consulted widely: “I did survive the Federation of Small Businesses consultation event in Builth Wells, but only just…”


    7 years ago
  • Lovely venue, lovely view

    We will be starting imminently, and have just had time to admire the excellent venue here at St David’s Hotel and the lovely view across Cardiff Bay.


    7 years ago
  • Scheduled keynote – Kirsty Williams

    Our main event this morning will be a keynote from the Cabinet Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams. The Liberal Democrat AM was brought into the Welsh Government after this year’s elections in order to bring Labour into a majority, and given a cabinet post in return. Immediately upon taking office she was faced with the looming publication of the Diamond Review.

    7 years ago
  • Good morning

    Good morning. Today’s conference kicks off a 9am and we’ll be bringing you live updates from then onwards.  We’ve got a great line-up of speakers, including:

    • Rob Humphreys, Director, Open University in Wales
    • Hywel Thomas, PVC Research, Innovation & Engagement, Cardiff University
    • Cerys Furlong, Director for Wales, Learning and Work Institute
    • Ioan Matthews, Director Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
    • Fflur Elin, President, NUS Wales
    • Margaret Phelan, UCU
    • Gareth Rees, WISERD, Cardiff University
    • Sir Emyr Jones Parry, President of The Learned Society of Wales
    • Simon Pirotte, Principal, Bridgend College
    7 years ago