Campus close-up: University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Institution incentivises students to learn their native tongue as it delivers dual language courses

October 16, 2014

Source: Alamy

Taking wing: university and government commitments to increase Welsh-medium instruction are seeing results

“Money is the key that opens all locks” says the Welsh proverb – or “Allwedd arian a egyr pob clo”, to be precise.

This saying has been taken to heart by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, as it takes its place at the forefront of the drive to have more students at Welsh universities receive tuition in the country’s language.

Of the 5,465 students across Wales who were on courses that were delivered at least in part through the medium of Welsh during 2012-13, nearly half – 2,425 – were enrolled at Trinity St David. This figure, a rise of 23 per cent on the previous year, means that one in five students at the institution now has some teaching in Welsh.

In achieving this, the university has benefited from the rise in the number of school pupils learning Welsh, as well as from its roots in Carmarthen, which remains a stronghold for the language.

But the institution has also taken a number of innovative steps to increase the proportion of students being taught in Welsh – including offering financial inducement.

For every 10 course credits taken in Welsh, the university will pay a bursary of £50, up to a maximum of £600. This is on top of awards already on offer from the Welsh government.

Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Trinity St David’s associate pro vice-chancellor with responsibility for the Welsh language, said that this little “push” could play a vital role in persuading learners to keep using their native tongue.

“Many Welsh speakers have decided they will give it a go and find it to be beneficial, so they have received a bursary,” Mr Jones said. “It shows our commitment as a university to developing and enhancing Welsh language speaking.”

This commitment is shared by the country’s government, which has a target to increase the number of students receiving tuition in Welsh.

Only Bangor University rivals Trinity St David for courses that use the medium of the Welsh language, with 1,330 – nearly 12 per cent – of its students taking part. Apart from Aberystwyth University’s 530 students, totals for all of the other higher education institutions in the country stand in the low hundreds.

Beyond its bursary scheme, Trinity St David’s success is partly attributable to the way it has extended opportunities for learning in Welsh outside the traditional areas of education and the creative arts, with courses in subjects as diverse as business and fine art now incorporating Welsh language tuition.

The university has gone out into the community to spread the word, offering certificates in Welsh and bilingual early years teaching at 20 locations across the country and running foundation degrees in early childhood studies with modules on bilingualism at several campuses. It also enrols sixth-formers as “associate faculty”, allowing them to take a module to get a taste of higher education, and there has been a strongly positive response from Welsh secondary schools.

Another innovation is the development of bilingual courses, which have been designed for students who come from an English-speaking background but learned Welsh at school. These degrees offer lectures with presentations and notes in English and Welsh, as well as seminars that may have bilingual discussion and even two tutors speaking different languages.

Mr Jones said the growing interest in studying in Welsh was partly driven by changes in the job market.

“There has been a perception in Wales that, if you want to get on in the world, you have to follow courses in the medium of English,” he said. “But gradually more and more people are asking for services through the medium of Welsh – from the doctor or dentist to outdoor education.

“There is a growing confidence among Welsh speakers and they realise that if they complete part of their programme through Welsh, they have an advantage when applying for posts in the community by being bilingual.”

But Mr Jones argued that the imperative went beyond economics, with universities having a key role to play in keeping Wales’ cultural and linguistic heritage alive.

“Universities have a clear role to play to provide Welsh speakers with the confidence to go into the community and to live life through the medium of Welsh if they wish,” he said.

In numbers

£50 bursary given to Trinity St David students for every 10 credits taken in Welsh

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