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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Consequences - POWIS revisited

This morning's Western Mail outlines some of the consequences of the decision by the Welsh Government to stop the European funding to the University of Wales' Prince of Wales Innovation Scheme, without first putting an alternative in place.

It is now the case that there is no Welsh government funding scheme that takes good ideas arising from research by first class scholars and helps to turn them into high quality, high value jobs.

The paper says that Wales appears certain to lose out on an IT development centre, which could have created up to 100 jobs, following the decision to withdraw funding for the University of Wales Powis project:

New Zealand-based software development company Pingar had been planning to set up a Centre for Knowledge Engineering in the Swansea area but is now likely to choose the east of England instead, its co-founder said.

John Beer accused the Welsh Government of a “lack of transparency” over the end of the Powis scheme and said companies that had benefited from the project had learnt about its demise through the media rather than from government.

Mr Beer, whose PhD studies at Newport University are partly supported by the scheme, said he had spent years justifying to the Pingar board the decision to base its local offshoot Kaimai Research at the Digital Technium in Swansea rather than near Cambridge University.

“They keep saying to me why are you here John? One of the things is Powis, others are the relationship with the university and the skills,” he said.

He said the business was attracted to Swansea because of the skills available at the university. Kaimai has a masters level student from Swansea, another from Newport and three KEFF students from Bangor.

“We wanted to grow this here to work the University of Wales and other Powis companies because there’s some synergy with what we do with them,” he said.

But the precipitate closure of the Powis scheme without consultation with the companies affected means he can no longer recommend to the Pingar board that the knowledge centre be set up in Wales, he added.

“From our point of view it’s the not knowing is the key, the disregard for the companies that are funding this, disregard for the students, because we didn’t know about this,” he said.

“The future of collaboration has been wiped out in one fell swoop. It you want to change things you do it internally and you engage with the stakeholders.”

He confirmed that he had already begun talking with authorities in the east of England and that the knowledge centre will likely be built there.

What is clear from this article is that Ministers appear to have jumped into this feet first. They have failed to consult, failed to put any alternative in place and above all failed to think through the consequences of their own actions. As a result the Swansea area is losing one hundred much-needed high value jobs.

I am not questioning the assertion by Ministers that there were problems with the way that European funding was being used, they are in a better position to judge that than me. However, the way that their decision was put into effect has impacted upon a number of businesses and the future prosperity of Wales.

Ministers need to work quickly to put this right before more jobs are lost as a result of their actions.
One really has to ask what are the priorities of the current administration. So far we have proposed legislation on allotments, debates on child chastisement and charges on plastic bags.

Meanwhile our entire education system is going backwards by any measure, and the economy tanks as we close initiatives that are having a positive impact. Perhaps the Welsh Government and vested interests are simply terrified of anything that shows up their own lack of effectiveness.
But as someone "in the know" has already pointed out, the UoW actually provided most of the funding for POWIS, and the collaborators provided some; the European part of the funding was important but did not cover anywhere near the whole cost of running POWIS. POWIS could still be funded by the UoW and collaborators but for the fact that the UoW has lost a big chunk of its revenue in lieu of its October 3, 2011 decision to stop validating UoW degrees. So this is a bit of a red-herring, but I agree that the WAG have been rank amateurs in how they have dealt with (and ignored) POWIS stakeholders. cw
The law of unintended consequences is in play here. By systematically destroying the UoW the value and future of all Welsh Universities is now put into question as it was declared that they were paid a considerable sum by the UoW to administer and monitor these UoW degrees. It would also be interesting to ask the question of the Minister of Business as to why the Digital Technium in Swansea University is all but empty whilst innovative start-ups needing space are told that because of ministerial paperwork they have not been able to provide new leases. The ability to grow and encourage innovative companies to stay or even consider moving to Wales is now at its lowest ebb. Taking away POWIS and other innovative initiatives created by the UoW with no replacement programmes can be deemed as reckless and irresponsible at best and the Welsh Office should be called upon to initiate a public enquiry before any further damage is done to the global education and business standing of Wales.
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