Whole new ballgame

February 9, 2012

Regarding your recent news story, "Double bind and binary line menace for Welsh post-92s" (2 February): may I add the following important elements to the picture presented by the article?

• The purpose of the reallocation of student numbers is to ensure the best use of all available higher education funds in Wales (fees plus funding council grant) in support of all aspects of Welsh government strategy for the sector.

• Contrary to the reported comment from one university's spokesman that we take no account of widening access and the student experience, we have been explicit in stating that we are focusing on those aspects of policy that are not covered by institutions' commitments under their fee plans. Widening access and the student experience remain core objectives, but are already covered by those plans. In addition, part of our purpose is to ensure adequate grant funding to support high-cost and priority subjects - relevant to the student experience.

• As your scenarios show, it is not credible for anyone to present this step as the recreation of the binary line.

• The reallocation applies to new full-time undergraduate and PGCE students entering in 2013-14, not to "all places" as suggested in the article. After applying all the priority and quota exemptions referred to in our policy, it will affect some 21 per cent of that group, not 50 per cent of all places as implied.

• Our expectation, on reasonable assumptions about matters such as how institutions will respond and what will happen to cross-border student flows, is that Welsh universities will be better off in terms of total income from fees and grant than they would have been had the current teaching funding method continued (together with current projections for grant-in-aid). Depending on how institutions respond, some will not be as well off as they might have hoped to be without this intervention, but all should still be better off than under the old regime. In addition, we will still be able to address a range of other priorities.

We need to recognise that the world has moved on from the days of a student number-led, grant-based teaching funding model. In the new fees-led world, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales will use its remaining grant on priorities that fees will not address, with reference to research, innovation, engagement and other strategic developments. We all need to focus more on income from fees and grant and its use, and less on allocated student numbers - let alone mechanistic translations of funding council allocations into internal university resource-allocation decisions.

Phil Gummett, Chief executive, HEFCW

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