We need to encourage all of Wales’ graduates to return home – not just those from the Russell Group

Graduation ceremony

Hannah Woodward

Wales is a talented country and we have throughout history produced an array of gifted people.

It is a country of musicians, teachers, doctors, nurses, architects, broadcasters – just to name a few – many of which are celebrated around the world.

Despite this talent, Wales’ best and brightest continue to be held back. Fewer people from Wales are going to university.

A report by the Wales Online highlighted that applications by Welsh students to University have fallen by 7%, which is the steepest decline of any of the UK nations.

In Wales only 31.7% of 18-year-olds applying to University, compared to 47.5% in Northern Ireland, 37% in England and 32.6% in Scotland.

Alongside the decline, Wales has been faced with a decline in students returning to or living in Wales.

23,807 graduates arrived in Wales between 2013 and 2016, yet 44,335 graduates left Wales; meaning that Wales lost 20,528 graduates in just three years.

Brightest

The launch of the Darogan Network is, therefore, something to be welcomed.

It is an organisation that apparently provides a solution to the “Welsh Brain Drain”, as according to their website it’s for students and graduates from Russell Group Universities, who are deemed on their website as being the “best students”.

They state that they aim to tackle the brain drain by “linking the nation’s best employers and the most exceptional students from some of the best universities in the world” via networking events and online platforms.

Unfortunately, while university applicants can choose from 106 UK Universities to attend, Darogan only wishes to recruit and help Welsh graduates from ‘The Russell Group’, which consists of 24 universities.

I myself am Welsh, a recent graduate from Cardiff University and therefore a Russell group graduate, and when I first encountered the Darogan Network I was thrilled to see people from my generation taking action to stop the brain drain in Wales.

Yet when uncovering the criteria of their network, I was disappointed to see such elitism towards other UK universities.

The website suggests that Russell Group universities are “the best” and their graduates “the most promising”.

While Russell Group Universities do offer outstanding teaching, research and student facilities, however, that is not to say that other Universities and institutes do not.

According to the 2019 University League Tables, the top 20 included Universities such as St. Andrews, Bath, Loughborough, Lancaster, Sussex, East Anglia and Leicester, all of which are not in the Russell Group.

They did, however, surpass many Russell Group Universities, such as Cardiff, Bristol and Exeter.

Despite these Universities outranking Russell Group Universities, Welsh graduates from non-Russell Group institutions are denied membership by Darogan, on the basis that they are not “Wales’ brightest students”.

Think how much potential talent could be in the other 106 institutions not included in the Darogan Network. In fact, any Welsh student that has been accepted into higher education must have something worth bringing back to Wales.

Uncertainty

The benefits to Welsh students and to Wales from a network like Darogan is clear. However, it is disconcerting to see such elitism towards non-Russell Group academic institutions in twenty-first-century society.

It really is hard to understand the logic behind this almost Etonian mindset. Wales has already seen a decline in University applicants, suggesting that many do not see the investment of time and money in university as improving their prospects sufficiently.

Brexit will create further uncertainty. Darogan has a chance to change that and demonstrate that Welsh students can return home with their job prospects enhanced.

Wales needs an all-encompassing organisation that celebrates the academic achievements of all. An elitist approach to Welsh graduates will not solve the brain drain issue.


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