Welsh minister amends bill over academic freedom fears

Welsh government ministers have offered reassurance over academic freedom as new powers for the country’s university funding council are debated

October 17, 2014

Amendments have been tabled to the Higher Education (Wales) Bill in a bid to safeguard institutional autonomy, in response to concerns expressed by Welsh Assembly members and universities that the legislation would hand “disproportionate” authority to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

A report from the Assembly’s children, young people and education committee had highlighted how the requirement for universities to submit fee plans for approval focused not just on widening access but also on other areas such as mental health support, teacher training and the “student experience generally”, warning that there was a “danger of overregulation”. Universities have also expressed concern about “micromanagement” by Hefcw and ministers.

The committee recommended that new clauses protecting academic freedom should be inserted, and education minister Huw Lewis has now accepted this.

Part of the amendment reads: “In exercising functions by virtue of this Act, Hefcw must take into account the importance of protecting academic freedom including, in particular, the freedom of institutions to determine the contents of particular courses and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed; to determine the criteria for the admission of students and to apply those criteria in particular cases; and to determine the criteria for the selection and appointment of academic staff and to apply those criteria in particular cases.”

The amendment also clarifies that Hefcw will not have the power to require a university to do anything which is incompatible with its charitable status or its governing documents.

Announcing his intention to introduce the amendments, Mr Lewis told Assembly members he now expected that the legislation would be fully implemented in 2017-18 rather than 2016-17 to allow for the government and Hefcw to “resolve some if not all of the sector’s concerns”.

“This will allow my officials and Hefcw to put in place a plan that is deliverable and benefits the students of Wales,” he said.

Addressing Assembly members, he added that the guarantees on institutional autonomy and charitable status would “ensure that the Welsh government’s intentions on these matters are put beyond doubt”.

The legislation is designed to hand statutory powers to Hefcw to replace the leverage it once exercised through the distribution of teaching grants.


You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard