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News 2019

  • Blog post: Looking at student well-being and health
  • Date:  20 December 2019
  • Well-being and health is everyone’s business. HEFCW’s conference last month followed the summer launch by the Minister for Education of Higher Education for a Healthy Nation: Student well-being and health. As the newly appointed Widening Access and Inclusion Manager, the conference provided me with an opportunity to consider how the sector has responded to this agenda so far.

    The conference provided the space to continue a national conversation about how we support staff and students’ well-being and health, including mental health in HE and share experience and practice. HEFCW also drew attention to its recently published Policy Statement on Well-being and Health in HE. Speakers provided advice, evidence and challenge as well as recognising the potential role of HE in Wales to contribute to an improved, whole university system approach to a healthier Wales.

    Our HEFCW Council Chair, David Allen OBE, introduced the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, AM, who opened the conference by recognising the sector’s good work being on well-being and health. She highlighted that past remit letters from Welsh Government made specific reference to well-being. We have received strong support from the Minister, including £2m funding to enhance the availability of well-being and health support for students in higher education. This has contributed towards our support of five collaborative, innovative projects to improve well-being and health and share practice.

    Throughout the day, Professor Steve West CBE, shared insights from the implementation of the University of West England’s Mental Wealth Strategy, which was followed by Professor Mark Dooris challenging institutions to develop both whole university and whole system approaches. Clare Budden from Clwyd Alyn championed different systems leadership to secure effective partnership working, while John de Pury focused on improving outcomes in HE through an inclusive approach. In the afternoon, a panel discussion, including representatives from Bridgend College, UCAS, Advance HE and NUS Wales, considered progression and success, including a focus on data to inform strategic planning.

    It was clear from the conference that all universities are actively engaged in helping students reach their full potential and this involves more than simply a focus on academic success. Universities can, and many do, provide a healthy, happy and sustainable environment that benefits staff, students and local communities and contributes to civic engagement, equality of opportunity and the public good. Partnership working between different organisations at both a local, regional, Wales- and UK-wide is key to successful well-being and health in HE. This ‘joined up’ and proactive approach, both at a whole university and whole system level in Wales should encourage innovative working that leads to positive and healthy universities and colleges.

    Our Chief Executive, Dr David Blaney, closed the conference by reflecting on the day’s key themes. David stressed that the event had benefitted from the insight and challenge from a diverse range of speakers and delegates from Public Health Wales, schools, further education, the third sector and students. The key point I took away is that there is no competition between universities and their partners when it comes to well-being and health, including supporting mental ill health. We all need to work collaboratively, across sectors, making the most of our enabling legislation: The Well-Being and Future Generations (Wales) Act’s goals and five ways of working to provide HEFCW, universities, students and staff with tools to support positive well-being and health experiences in HE in Wales.

  • Savanna Jones, Widening Access and Inclusion Manager, HEFCW
  • Blog post: Higher education and pensions
  • Date:  13 December 2019
  • As higher education institutions in Wales start publishing their financial statements for 2018/19, David Blaney explains why many are reporting financial deficits.

    The large deficits reported in the 2018/19 financial statements of many higher education (HE) institutions in Wales do not reflect a crisis in their operating performance. Rather, they are mainly due to one-off pension charges for costs to be paid in the future that have to be reflected as operating costs in HE institutions’ financial statements. These pension charges impact on many UK HE institutions in 2018/19 and are not unique to Welsh HE institutions.

    There are variations in the type of pension benefits that retired HE staff receive, and the way the pension schemes are managed, funded and accounted for in the financial statements of the HE institutions. The way pension costs are presented in financial statements varies between schemes, making the financial implications of pensions less comparable between HE institutions.

    Many have what are called ‘funded defined benefit’ schemes. Managed by trustees, these schemes are made up of investments from employees and employers, and the aim is to maximise the return on investment into the scheme in order to meet the costs of pension payments to retired employees.

    These schemes are typically higher risk for employers because their financial sustainability relies on the scheme having enough income and assets to meet the current and forecast future liability for pension payments to retired employees. Accordingly, to make sure that such schemes are on track to earn sufficient income to meet these liabilities, the trustees must have a formal valuation, known as an actuarial valuation, of the scheme normally once every three years. Scheme valuations are very sensitive to changes in a range of assumptions including returns on investment, income from contributions and pension recipients’ life expectancy.

    If this valuation results in a scheme being in deficit, with more liabilities than assets, a greater level of contribution is required in the future to meet the scheme’s liabilities. This is the case currently with the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

    The deficit in the USS scheme means that HE institutions will have to make additional contributions towards the scheme – to eliminate the scheme’s deficit, in addition to paying increased contributions in future years.

    Although the cash payments for the deficit reduction contributions will be spread over at least the next 10 years, the way these deficit provision pension costs are required to be presented in financial statements (in HE institutions’ ‘income and expenditure’ accounts) means that the increase in the pension deficit provision is shown as a substantial operating cost in 2018/19.

    These significant pension costs account for the majority of the operating losses being reported by Welsh HE institutions in 2018/19. As these pension costs will only become payable over future years, they do not reflect the underlying annual operating costs and performance of institutions – and therefore should not be interpreted as such.

    If you would like to know more details about the variety of pension schemes that HE institutions have and their impact on their financial statements, we have prepared a longer briefing note.

  • HEFCW’s Student Opportunity and Achievement Committee
  • Date:  22 November 2019
  • HEFCW is seeking candidates for the appointment of a schools’ representative Member to our Student Opportunity and Achievement Committee (SOAC). We are seeking a senior member of staff from a school with a sixth form, or from a further education college which provides progression routes to higher education. SOAC is a committee of HEFCW’s Council, and acts in an advisory capacity.

    The remit of the Committee is to advise on student opportunity and achievement in higher education, including Welsh medium, widening access, equality and diversity, and skills and employability, with the aim of ensuring that Welsh higher education meets the needs and expectations of learners and other stakeholders.

    The Committee will meet three times a year.

    SOAC Members receive no remuneration. However, HEFCW will reimburse you for all reasonable and properly documented expenses you incur in the performance of your duties, in accordance with our travel and subsistence procedures.

    The appointment will be for an initial term of up to three years unless terminated earlier by either party, with the possibility of re-appointment for a further term.

    The deadline for applications is 20 December 2019.

  • New EHRC publication: Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged
  • Date:  23 October 2019
  • Commenting on the publication of the new EHRC report, Dr David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW, said: “This is an extremely important piece of work. We expect to see university leaders and governors driving change, making sure that the lessons learned from this comprehensive inquiry by the EHRC result in actions that are mainstreamed into their institutional culture. They must also be supported by effective strategies and processes to ensure higher education provides equality of opportunity for all.

    “Working in partnership with Welsh higher education providers and the Welsh Government, we will seek to challenge existing behaviours that are unacceptable and inequitable. Progress in this area must be rapid and effective, and we will make sure - as a key influencer in higher education in Wales - that we continue to shine a light on this. We will use our regulatory mechanisms to safeguard students and staff in HE to meet and go beyond equality laws.

    “In the meantime, we will consider in detail the recommendations in the report, for us and for higher education providers.

    “Finally, we would like to thank the EHRC for producing this report and we pledge our ongoing commitment to collaborative working to address inequality.”

  • Blog post: Shwmae, Su’mae – Towards Cymraeg 2050: HEFCW and Welsh language in higher education
  • Date:  14 October 2019
  • As a Welsh speaker I find that the ability to use the language in the workplace is a joy, and also something that is becoming common practice in HEFCW. That is why we have decided to celebrate - in the ethos of Shwmae Su’mae - the work we have done as an organisation to support the use of Welsh in the higher education sector.

    Despite Welsh Government’s initiative, Towards Cymraeg 2050: A million Welsh speakers, it can sometimes be challenging to use the Welsh language on a daily basis. However, implementing the Welsh Language Standards in March 2018 provided HEFCW with an opportunity to reaffirm a lot of the good work we were doing and to explore ways to strengthen our current practice. As an organisation we also continue to do the little things, like answering the phone bilingually, attending ‘Cymraeg Gwaith’ courses and wearing Cymraeg and Dysgwr lanyards. However, these have led to bigger things, such as giving us opportunities to engage with the public, stakeholders and the higher education sector as a bilingual organisation.

    We have worked closely with Y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol since its establishment, first in a monitoring capacity and now through close partnership working. We have supported Y Coleg to invest in new staff and provision, focus on key target areas and support the take up of the Welsh language skills certificate. As funding Y Coleg has now passed on to the Welsh Government, we are proud of our legacy, and will continue to work with Y Coleg to enable it to continue its vital role in growing opportunities for students to study through Welsh. We also work closely with the National Centre for Learning Welsh, and Estyn to support the Welsh language. We recognise that learning and speaking the Welsh language is a skill in itself which in education can open doors to many different sources of knowledge and enrichen the education experience – and change your life.

    We are encouraged that the number of students choosing to study part of their higher education courses in Welsh has grown over the past eight years. Increased opportunities and awareness at higher education providers have contributed significantly to this increase. From 2017, we have also been working with higher education providers to develop degree apprenticeships in priority areas. These proposals had to include a sufficient element on which part of these courses could be delivered through the Welsh language or bilingually.

    We have also commissioned research on how to further enhance meaningful partnerships between educators, students’ unions and students (due early 2020!) This research will also consider the impact of bilingual provision and how groups of students and educators engage with the Welsh language in education and further afield. We hope that this will provide us with examples of good practice and guidance for how we can further promote and encourage this work in the future.

    In Wales, every institution produces a student charter, which provides links and signposts to detailed information about courses, student support and regulations. In addition, they include specific information about higher education providers’ engagement with the Welsh language. We monitor the charters regularly to ensure that students have access to information on what is available to them in terms of the Welsh language at their higher education provider.

    Today, aligned to the many acts of celebration across the country, we have launched our publication Towards Cymraeg 2050: HEFCW and Welsh language in higher education, and encourage you to join us on this journey. Ymlaen â ni!

  • Savanna Jones, Student Experience Manager, HEFCW
  • New incentives for Welsh students to do their Masters degree in Wales
  • Date:  03 September 2019
  • A new £4,000 bursary will be available for people over the age of 60 to study for a Masters degree in Wales for the 2019/20 academic year. The grant aims to provide additional support for students over 60, who are currently unable to access the same financial support as younger students due to HM Treasury restrictions.

    A new £2,000 bursary will also be available for graduates of all ages to study in Wales for a Masters degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics or Medicine, often referred to as ‘STEMM’ subjects.

    A £1,000 bursary will also be available to study a Masters degree through the medium of Welsh. The bursary aims to support the continued development of the Welsh-speaking workforce and help achieve the target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

    The Welsh Government will make £1.3m of funding to the HEFCW to administer the bursaries through Welsh higher education providers. Further information on eligibility and how to apply can be found by contacting your preferred university.
  • Full Welsh Government press notice
  • Blog post: Big wheels keep on turnin’ - Research and innovation – a Vision for Wales
  • Date:  16 August 2019
  • Followers of HEFCW might have noticed that we have recently published what we informally call "the Vision".
  • It’s a new path for HEFCW – to make such a bold statement about our hopes for the future – and it’s taken a lot of time, head-scratching and patience to produce the final document (including some time spent discussing its disco-ball style cover!)
  • So why did we do it?
  • If you are familiar with the research and innovation (R&I) landscape across the UK (and possibly if you aren’t), UK Research and Innovation – UKRI - was set up in April 2018. Those paying attention to Welsh university R&I policy will also recall that Professor Graeme Reid’s review of government funded research and innovation was published last year. Brexit preparations were ramping up and among other challenges already facing the UK, there were lots of new ideas and recommendations floating around that created a perfect storm of influences in Wales.
  • In May 2018 the Chair of our Research, Innovation and Engagement (RIE) Committee changed. Professor Sir Robin Williams passed on the challenge to the new Chair, Professor Mark E Smith, for the committee to seize this opportunity.
  • That settled it then.
  • Our committee went on to hold a workshop bringing together universities and other key stakeholders, collaborators and others interested and involved in R&I in Wales to work out where we wanted Wales to be, and how we could make it happen.
  • The result was the Vision.
  • HEFCW is regulator and funder first and foremost, but also a supporter and partner of our higher education institutions. We are starting to move on: from being only able to offer QR funding - as part of the dual support system - to support research and innovation in Wales, towards a more engaged and supportive approach in the changing times we face (whilst obviously still including the dual support system). The Vision aims to capture imaginations, recognise the challenges and create a plan that we can support, and deliver in collaboration with higher education sector.
  • It seems to be going down well, and we have made good progress in hitting our short-term goals:
  • • The RIE Committee has been replaced with the Research Wales Committee, shaped to more easily demonstrate our alignment to our counterparts east of the border, Research England, and to better engage across the R&I sector to ensure stronger advice to our Council.
  • • We’re currently consulting on the reintroduction of innovation funding for Welsh universities, which will take the form of the Research Wales: Innovation Fund from 2020/21. And
  • • In an effort to respond to the Reid recommendation to incentivise providers to win external grant money, Research Wales: Strengthening the research base funding, enabled though additional funds from Welsh Government, means our first year is going to take some beating.
  • As a relatively new R&I team at HEFCW we hope we’ll bring something new to the table. We’d also love to hear from you about your own hopes for R&I in Wales, while you join us on the journey over the next few years.
  • And of course please tell us what you think is actually on our Vision’s disco-ball style cover!
  • Jennifer Evans, Senior Research Manager, HEFCW
  • HEFCW Research Wales Committee: vacancies for two independent members
  • Date:  13 August 2019
  • The Research Wales Committee (RWC) advises Council on its strategies for research, innovation and engagement in Wales. The RWC produced Research and Innovation: the Vision for Wales setting out HEFCW’s ambition for the research and innovation with an ambition for how our universities will contribute to local, UK and international challenges. As a member of the RWC, you will advise on the priorities for funding, and mechanisms that will strengthen and sustain a successful research and innovation environment for Wales. Members are encouraged to lead working groups on key areas of interest and policy relevance, to provide enhanced advice to Council. Your contribution will ensure Wales is in the strongest position to exploit its strengths and overcome challenges and be a recognised leader in research and innovation.
  • We have two vacancies on the Research Wales Committee to bring an independent, external perspective to the Committee’s work:
  • • Expert in research and innovation (academic or industry vacancy)
  • • Early career academic
  • All applications will be treated the same and appointments will be made on merit.
  • More information
  • UK Research Partnership Investment Fund
  • Date:  11 July 2019
  • The latest round of UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) represents a £200m+ fund supporting large-scale research collaborations across the UK. Each project receives twice as much investment again from non-public sources. This is the sixth round of UKRPIF, the second award to Swansea University, and the third overall in Wales.
  • Dr David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW, said: “It is excellent news that the semiconductor portfolio in Wales continues to grow, strengthening our research capacity and offering real innovation opportunities for companies working in Wales. This award shows the strength of our research collaborations with industry, and demonstrates the value of programmes such as Sêr Cymru, through which Professor Paul Meredith’s vision and commitment made this possible. We are excited to see the work progress.”
  • Blog post - Reviewing the Quality Assessment Framework
  • Date:  05 June 2019
  • I wrote recently about reviewing our Student Charter guidance – well, we are also reviewing our Quality Assessment Framework!
  • This is because the context of higher education continues to change. Since we published the framework originally, the Office for Students was formed, the revised Quality Code for Higher Education and associated guidance have been published, the ways in which international provision is assessed are under review, and work on degree standards progresses, with the recent publication of the UK-wide Degree classification: statement of intent.
  • We’re amending the framework to reflect these developments, as well as referencing our new procedures for assessing the quality of education.
  • As you might expect, this led us to consider other aspects of the framework, specifically the requirements for external quality assurance reviews. Those who are about to commission such a review will be pleased to know that we aren’t adding much, other than including updated references to the quality code and associated documents.
  • However, we have agreed with QAA, commissioned by universities in Wales to carry out the external quality assurance reviews using the Quality Enhancement Review method, that it doesn’t make sense for them to carry out this review against all elements of the baseline for the quality assessment framework, for example the relevant code of governance. We have therefore proposed to make it clearer that we expect external quality assurance reviews to consider quality and standards, including the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, and the expectations and core and common practices of the Quality Code for Higher Education.
  • As the changes to the Framework aren’t substantive, we are carrying out a ‘soft consultation.’ That means we are asking for the views of the QAA Wales Quality Network, the Universities Wales Pro Vice-Chancellors Learning and Teaching Advisory Group, the HE in FE network, NUS Wales and student unions.
  • If anyone else is interested in seeing the draft proposals and would like to comment, please contact me at cliona.oneill@hefcw.ac.ukby 12 June. We hope to have the final guidance approved and published in July 2019.
  • Cliona O'Neill, Head of Student Experience, HEFCW
  • Higher education groups underline commitment to fair and transparent academic standards
  • Date:  20 May 2019
  • The UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment (UKSCQA) has published its Statement of Intent to ensure transparent, consistent and fair academic standards in UK higher education.
  • The Statement, outlining higher education’s commitment to protecting the value of UK degrees, has been signed by sector representative bodies including Universities Wales, and endorsed by the UKSCQA, which includes regulated providers, National Union of Students, and funding and regulatory bodies such as HEFCW.
  • The Statement also includes assurances that qualifications should be based on clear criteria that demonstrate academic, and that diverse institutions must demonstrate comparable academic practices to protect the sustainability of the degree classification system.
  • Dr David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW, said: “We very much support the commitments in the Statement and the steps providers are taking to ensure transparency and parity. Our main consideration is assuring the quality of higher education, and the outcomes of higher education, for the benefit of students. We recognise that students have worked hard for their qualifications, and we cannot make blanket judgements about an individual’s attainment based on an upward trajectory in institutional grades. However, we must maintain confidence in the value of the UK degree and this statement is an important step to ensure consistency in degree classifications.”
  • Kirsty Williams, the Education Minister, said: “I welcome higher education institutions in Wales and across the UK working together to guarantee transparency and fairness when awarding qualifications. Consistency is essential to provide students with assurance that the degrees they’ve worked so hard for are rightly valued by universities, future employers and their peers and given the respect they fully deserve.”
  • Statement of intent
  • Blog post:  A word about student charters
  • Date:  08 May 2019
  • We are in the process of updating our student charter guidance. We’re doing this to integrate well-being and health into the charters, as it didn’t seem meaningful for institutions to develop mental health charters which were separate to the student experience charters.
  • We’ve taken this addition of well-being and health as an opportunity to review the student charter guidelines more broadly, as there is a risk of continuing to add new requirements without taking anything away - resulting in a very long shopping list!
  • We worked on the updated guidance with a task and finish group, which included sector representatives, mental health experts, and student representatives, and we are very grateful for their help in shaping the proposals.
  • The updated guidance proposes that the charters should include a statement on the institutional commitment to student well-being and health, including mental health, and that they should link to related strategies that could impact on this area – for example, around safeguarding.
  • Other changes we are proposing include clarifying that the student charter isn’t a legal document, but that it sets out mutual expectations of institutions, staff and student unions.
  • We’ve also emphasised the need for institutions to communicate the charter in ways that are easily understood, and to continually adapt this.
  • Finally, we’ve proposed that the charters include a statement on the need for the institution to meet its statutory responsibilities, such as those around equality and diversity.
  • We’re having to do this work fairly quickly to give institutions and their student unions the time to make these changes in time for the 2019/20 student cohort. Therefore, we’re aiming to publish the revised guidance the week of 20 May 2019, or as soon as possible thereafter.
  • If you want to contribute your views before we publish the guidance, please contact me at cliona.oneill@hefcw.ac.uk before 15 May.
  • Cliona O'Neill, Head of Student Experience, HEFCW
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