Losing a Head Start

Kirsty Davies says the Welsh Government’s cuts to higher and further education are shortsighted

The Welsh Government’s draft budget will deliver 5 per cent cuts to higher and further education institutions. Apparently they are not cuts but ‘efficiency savings’. Other departments are looking to make ‘efficiency savings’ of around 1.6 per cent so I am left wondering why higher and further education institutions are able to make further savings, especially when university settlements in recent years have also entailed cutbacks.

The Assembly’s Enterprise and Learning Committee’s report into the Economic Contribution of Higher Education identifies the sector as having a huge multiplier effect on the economy. For every £1 million you invest in Higher Education, the economy gets £5.3 million back. According to the Holtham Commission, Wales has 17 per cent more students per head than England which means that we should have a good source of future income from our student population.

Wales’s 25 further education colleges and institutions provide 80 per cent of all post-16 qualifications in Wales. The majority of these courses are part time which enables students to work whilst studying for a qualification. Wales has consistently been shown to provide a better standard of Further Education than England which gives Wales a real head start in the provision of skilled workers to the business community. This may be why further education colleges are over-subscribed across Wales.

The Welsh Government should use this recession as an opportunity to increase the skills of Welsh people in order to make a meaningful contribution to the Welsh economy in future. These cuts undermine the ability of Wales to develop a skilled workforce and are likely to contribute to redundancies our colleges.

A sensible person might assume that during a period when youth unemployment is at its highest in over 15 years the Welsh Government would make it a priority to make sure that young adults have the skills that will be required in the upturn. When the recession is over it will be the countries which invested in skills and education that will be the first to succeed. Wales’s most precious resource is her people, and especially her young people. To make so-called ‘efficiency savings’ that in practice are more likely to involve real cuts to this area is shortsighted in terms of our long term prosperity.

Kirsty Davies is Deputy Director of the IWA.