LIVE: Delivering Diamond: The future of HE in Wales



  • 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.

    1 year 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.

    1 year 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’.



    1 year 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”.


    1 year 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.

    1 year 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…”


    1 year 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.


    1 year 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.

    1 year 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
    1 year ago