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Monday, March 09, 2009

Plaid Cymru capitulate

The decision of Plaid Cymru's National Executive to back their leader and their Assembly Group in introducing top-up fees in Wales signals an ignominous capitulation for that party. The Liberal Democrats are now the only party who continue to resist this additional taxation on educational achievement.

Rather bizarrely this u-turn appears to be based on a belief that being in Government requires compromises. Plaid even argue that it is normal in coalition for a party to hold one position whilst its ministers implement another. What utter nonsense.

Having been in government I am prepared to accept that compromises have to be made, that policies have to be implemented that some Ministers and their party are not comfortable with and that collective responsibility has to apply. That is certainly the case where it proves that a promise is impractical or when circumstances dictate that a change is necessary, but neither of those scenarios apply in this case.

The present arrangements in which the Welsh Government pays the top-up fees for indigenous students is already in the budget. There are no financial pressures that require the government to find the money to pay for it. The imperative for change was always going to be the lifting of the cap on fees by the UK Government and yet it now looks unlikely that this will happen and in any case the present Welsh proposals pre-empt any UK decision. In other words there is no good reason why what we have at present should change ahead of the 2011 elections.

Being in government is about getting things done, but it is also about sticking to your values and your principles, even in coalition. If the One Wales Agreement does not give Plaid Cymru the assurance it needs to resist top-up fees then they failed to negotiate it properly.

Their Ministers say that they fought for their position in the Cabinet and lost but the fact is that the real choice they faced was not one of collective responsibility, it was whether the principles and values they held were strong enough to break the coalition over. This was not about the realities of power it was about retaining the privileges of power.

Plaid Cymru have sold out Welsh students so that their leadership can continue to enjoy the comfort of ministerial limousines.


Our Right to Public Consultation in Welsh Higher Education

According to Betsan Powys, Adam Price's argument is this: that the decision to hold a review of student fees was flawed from the start, that the consultation process itself was incomplete, rushed, fundamentally flawed and that the decision to bring in top-up fees is "based on a combination of inaccurate assertions, a rushed and incomplete policy review and a deeply flawed consultation".

Whether or not you agree with the decision, the simple fact is he is right, he is only doing what backbench Labour MPs would do in Westminster to hold the executive to account for the way it governs the country.

Issue 1 Tuition Fees

Many Welsh students only stay in this country because of the £1,800 a year grant to every student, take that away and students will drift to other parts of the UK. Spend money solely on the disadvantaged and you have the problem of the reported 75 per cent drop out rate of those left behind. The falling student numbers is going to result in melt down.

Issue 2 Too many Universities handing out too many Mickey Mouse degrees.

Wales has too many Universities there are 14 for a population of 3 million, Scotland with a population of 5 million has 5, Northern Ireland with a population of 1.5 million has only 2. This position is unsustainable we must face the fact that something has to go as the money could be better spent.

The University of Wales Lampeter got itself into problems concerning management, finance and running Mickey Mouse degrees in such things as astrology. Not a very good degree as it was in the stars that it was going to fail, and they should have seen it coming. What this does prove it that academics live in cloud cuckoo land, devoid of any contact with the real world.

When Do We Get the Public Apology for Failure?

Like the bankers, when are these academics going to appear before the Welsh Assembly Education and Audit Committees to explain and apologise for what went wrong , account for their actions and waste of our money, moreover, when is the public going to be invited to give their views.

Their Answer Merger to make Universities more Welsh

The Independent has a story that the Trinity College / University of Wales Lampeter Merger Committee is selling the merger to the public on the grounds that the new University is going to be more Welsh.

With all due respect to peoples language and culture I wonder if they have totally lost the plot.

As others have pointed out we live in a global economy and the fact is that English is an international language whereas Welsh is not much use outside of Wales.

Regarding language legislation, the Irish take a much more pragmatic view on these issues in order to attract inward investment, and may explain why so many American technology firms set up in Ireland rather than in Wales.

The Solution Reform to include Public Accountability and Consultation.

The recent outburst by Adam Price is evidence that there are serious cracks appearing in the brick wall that higher education hides behind to exclude the public and conceal its failures.

Some politicians are starting to ask questions instead of rubber-stamping everything they are told by academia. We must take control via the democratic process and make these people just as accountable as other public servants and public institutions.

Trevor Mayes
Our right to Public Consultation in Welsh Higher Education

Copy of a letter to: Graham Wilkinson – Carmarthen Journal

I understand this issue is going to be included for publication on March 11th 2009

Re: Public Consultation and Alternatives to the Lampeter Trinity Merger

The last big student protests about the world they live in were in the sixties and focussed mainly on the Vietnam War. Then in the late seventies and early eighties Margret Thatcher became the object of protest from student unions who aligned themselves with mainly left wing political groups to fight her policies. This led to the introduction of powers that prevented student unions acting beyond their brief and curbed their involvement in opposition to her government. This has been followed by further deregulation of higher education by the current New Labour government that included withdrawing the power of the Auditor General for Wales to intervene and take over a higher education establishment on the grounds of financial mismanagement.

This means that students, the public and our elected representatives do not have any direct or indirect means of intervention with regard to issues of administration or value for money in higher education. Moreover, we have no right to any form of consultation on what is a public service paid for by public money. If the University of Wales Lampeter were a hospital, a school, or a college of further education, there would be a public outcry. Despite the concerns of the Higher Education funding council for Wales and the lambasting of Lampeter by the regulator the Quality Assurance Agency, neither students nor the public have any right of complaint to these regulatory bodies.

A review has been written on the future of Lampeter but we the public who fund this institution have no idea of what it actually says, only what we are told. There are factors that need to be taken into account, such as the removal of the £1,800 a year subsidy for every student in Wales in 2010 will mean a drift to other areas of the UK. There are also recent news stories that there are too many graduates and government policy may change to reduce their numbers. It seems that the survival of this new university is going to depend on recruiting a dwindling number of students from England when our money could be better spent serving the needs of local communities.

Charity Commission to Regulate

By the end of the 2009, the Charity Commission will take over the regulation of Welsh higher education with far reaching consequences. The collapse of the banks has indicated that deregulation has gone too far and has exposed the banking service to collapse, nobody wants that to happen to Welsh higher education. Therefore, we need a planned introduction to public accountability in keeping with other forms of public service.

We can make a start by the Trinity / Lampeter merger committee taking the initiative by publishing the revue of Lampeter and organising a public consultation process in keeping with other public services.

I myself believe that Lampeter’s isolation will always be a problem for University recruitment, academic research offer very little to the local community when we need training for jobs. A further education community college would be able to serve a wide rural area offering degree courses in partnership with Trinity College. In addition to lifelong learning, it could also include a concept of community education offering provision for young people and support community groups from all aspects of society.

There is the question of whether the exclusion of the public is in keeping with European law and the European Charter on Human Rights. The Welsh Assembly should use what little powers it has left itself and take Lampeter into the further education sector, or intimate it will do this if no public consultation takes place; so we the taxpaying public can decide its future.

Your support on theis issue would be appreciated

Trevor Mayes
What was the Lib Dems' position on tuition fees in its 1999 manifesto?
What policies were implemented by the 2000-3 coalition?
I am not sure that tuition fees were an issue in 1999 but we have resolutely opposed them since they were first mooted. It was in fact the 2000-2003 Labour-Welsh Liberal Democrat coalition that commissioned the Rees Report that led directly to the current position of no top-up fees for Welsh students at Welsh universities.
What happened with fees in Scotland when you were in caolaition with Labour?
Up-front tuition fees were never introduced in Scotland as a direct result of Liberal Democrat influence and student support was increased beyond anything available in England and Wales.
I think that Wales currently has 12 Universities, and Scotland something nearer to 20 than to the 5 that your first poster counts.
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