Central funding could 'threaten' Welsh autonomy

Proposal for government to directly fund universities could ‘damage reputation’, say respondents to White Paper consultation

March 21, 2013

Cardiff City Hall

The Welsh sector has raised fears that plans by the Cardiff government to directly fund higher education could threaten university autonomy and academic freedom.

Respondents to a consultation on the Welsh government’s White Paper, Further and Higher Education (Wales), said that the proposal could “damage the reputation” of universities in the country.

The proposal, made last July, suggests that money could be channelled directly from the government - bypassing the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales - when it is “strategically appropriate”, for example where the system fails to meet “employer needs and learner demand”.

It argues that direct funding could remove bureaucracy and that “bulk buying” by the government could achieve economies of scale.

But a summary of responses to a consultation on the Bill, released on 12 March, includes concerns that two funding sources could “cause complication and confusion for institutions and result in unnecessary duplication of work and systems”.

“Institutional autonomy is a perceived strength of the UK higher education sector and the proposal could potentially damage the reputation of the higher education sector in Wales, both in the UK and internationally,” some respondents thought.

Direct funding would break “the principle that higher education should be funded through an arm’s-length body”.

There were also worries that some universities might receive a higher level of direct government funding than others, reintroducing the “binary line” - the pre-1992 distinction between universities and centrally funded polytechnics.

The Welsh government has not released individual responses to the Bill, so it is not clear which universities, organisations or individuals raised these concerns.

A Higher Education Policy Institute report last year warned that universities in the devolved nations risked having their autonomy eroded.

A spokesman for the Welsh government said it would take account of the consultation responses when setting out its proposals in detail.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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