22 December 2020

HEFCW annual public meeting 2020

I was happy to welcome 94 delegates and speakers to our public meeting on 10 December. It seemed apt that this came at the end of an incredible year both in higher education and in all our lives.

This event is stakeholders’ annual opportunity to discuss recent developments in higher education with us, and included a Q&A session with our Chair and Chief Executive.

David Allen provided the welcome address at his last public meeting as Chair of HEFCW, and announced that Council member Rob Humphreys would succeed him on an interim basis for a 12-month term.

David has inspired confidence in not only the Council and the executive but also in government and in the sector. I am grateful to the Chair for his unwavering dedication to higher education – and particularly the rights of students – in Wales.

We also very much welcome the appointment of Rob to the role of Interim Chair, which will reassure HEFCW with some stability and continuity as we navigate through the challenges in higher education.

We launched our new Higher Education for the Nation publication at the meeting.

The case studies in the new report show some of the ways in which institutions have been working with students and partners to improve skills and employability.

We also welcomed Emma Adamson, Director of Learning Services, University of South Wales, to the meeting. She gave an inspirational talk about the University’s work in this domain, also featured as a case study in the publication.

We have been working remotely ever since our offices were flooded in February. Since then, we have moved to adjust our regulatory burden on higher education providers – reducing where we could while maintaining a robust regulatory framework, with a particular focus on ensuring that the interests of students are looked after.

We have regularly sought information on the nature of the student experience from institutions during the course of the year, and we have continued to meet with all institutional students’ unions and have frequent engagement with the NUS in Wales.

All the signs are that institutions have worked well to ensure that the experience of students is as good as possible and that students have coped well in unusual times.

One key feature, from my perspective, has been the way in which the sector has pulled together and collaborated in seeking to meet the Covid challenge. Indeed, one delegate at the public meeting praised the flexibility of providers in facing the pandemic, and how the sector needs to harness this agility into the medium to long term.

We have also been fortunate to receive additional funding for higher education institutions during these uncertain times, including money to support mental health and well-being. We would like to thank colleagues in our Welsh Government sponsor division and to the Minister for Education for their support in securing this extra funding.

Finally, we mustn’t forget our own workforce. We have worked to address the challenges of working remotely since the floods then during the global pandemic with additional support and flexible working. We are coping and we are delivering. Thank you to all my colleagues for their sheer resilience and professionalism during this difficult year.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all staff and Council members, partners and stakeholders a restful Christmas, and the very best for the new year.

David Blaney, Chief Executive