£50m to support ‘world class’ Welsh universities through pandemic – but concerns it ‘won’t go far enough’

Bangor University

The Welsh Government has today announced additional funding of more than £50 million for universities and colleges.

However, there is concern by the NUS, College Wales and opposition parties that it will be enough to halt the financial fallout at Wales’ higher education institutions.

£27m will be provided to higher education institutions, with £23m to support students in FE colleges and sixth forms, the Welsh Government said.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams also said that she would consider further support in the autumn, within the wider context of ensuring our resources support our economic and social recovery.

She said that Wales’ universities faced significant financial challenges, particularly due to uncertainty over future student numbers.

“Our universities and colleges here in Wales are world-class, both for their research and for student life,” Kirsty Williams said.

“The most recent student survey, published last week, showed yet again that Welsh universities poll ahead of the UK for student satisfaction.

“Our colleges and universities are stewards of place. Each one across the nation, and working together, will be important in our recovery as they work with schools, business, international partners and public services.

“So we are supporting these major institutions in Welsh life, so that they can support students of all ages, and keep playing their part in our recovery.

“We will not have a full picture of the pandemic’s impact on universities until next term, but this funding will provide a vital support to our institutions in their preparations for the autumn.”

 

‘Troubling’

However, Plaid Cymru said that the Welsh Government funding announcement was “long overdue and won’t go far enough”.

Plaid Cymru MS and Shadow Economy Minister Helen Mary Jones said she shared concerns with NUS Wales and College Wales that the money will not go far enough in supporting institutions and students

“Whilst funding for higher and further education institutions in Wales is welcome, it isn’t clear whether this money is new, or whether it is repackaged from previous education budgets,”  she said.

“This announcement is long overdue and yet will not go far enough. For example, the £15 million set aside for further education will be insufficient in covering the £30-40 million cost that Colleges Wales estimates is needed for new, socially distanced teaching methods.

“I share the concerns of NUS Wales that there isn’t support for students facing hardships, such as those who have already committed to contracts with landlords, but whose course will be delivered digitally, rendering student accommodation unnecessary.

“Further clarity is needed on where this money has come from, when it will appear, and whether there will be any strings attached, such as with the conditional funding available to English higher and further education institutions – a move which would be very troubling.”

The NUS said the money “falls short” of helping students facing financial hardship.

“It’s disappointing that this package does not include ring-fenced funding for student hardship, demand for which has increased during the pandemic and will only worsen in the coming months,” said NUS Wales President Becky Ricketts.

However she said that “the funding for FE colleges goes a long way to alleviating our concerns about the disproportionate impact of the virus on vulnerable and digitally excluded students”.

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