Welsh funding rethink

March 1, 2002

Welsh higher education funding chiefs are preparing to introduce pioneering changes to the way teaching and research are funded and organised in Wales.

From August, higher education teaching will be funded using a common currency representing the volume of learning, rather than by full-time equivalent student numbers.

Institutions teaching in subject areas that struggle to recruit will be encouraged to collaborate and share teaching resources, working through a new common awards structure for Wales.

A top researcher will be appointed to act as a "research facilitator" to profile Welsh research and encourage institutions to collaborate in key areas.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales is waiting to see how the Welsh Assembly responds to the conclusions of its higher education review next week, including the recommendation that the HEFCW should have an enhanced strategic-planning role.

According to Phil Gummett, the funding council's head of higher education, it should not be necessary for the assembly to call for primary legislation for the HEFCW to take on such a role and for it to be able to introduce the changes it wants to make.

He said: "It seems to us that the real issue is one of the will to raise the performance of the sector. If the will is there, then the existing funding mechanism contains powerful enough levers, and it's not necessary to introduce legislation."

The funding council plans to start funding the sector by "credit volume" from the next academic year. It hopes that this common currency for measuring the amount of learning delivered, combined with a common awards structure, will make it easier for students to move between institutions and for institutions to share materials and teaching resources.

The awards structure could be provided by the federal University of Wales, which already has a range of subject panels.

Mr Gummett said the more flexible system would help sustain courses and subject areas that were under threat due to weak recruitment, through collaboration and rationalisation.

The research facilitator would help to ensure that similar vital collaboration took place in research, he added.

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