Welsh Government’s £31m brain drain subsidy

Heini Gruffudd argues that we should stop subsiding those who choose to study outside the country

Finance directors of Welsh universities have queried the subsidising of Welsh students who study in other parts of the UK. Their concern is the adequate funding of Welsh universities.  Another way to look at this is to ask whether the current policy of subsidies best serves the educational and economic interest of Wales. Of particular concern in the light of the 2011 Census figures, does this policy have relevance for the Welsh language?

It takes some effort to wade through the mass of statistics provided by the universities and UCAS. One thing is clear: the share of applications by 18-year-olds to institutions in their home country is far lower in Wales than in Scotland and England. In those two countries, the share is 95 per cent. In Northern Ireland it is around 60 per cent and rising. In Wales it is just over 40 per cent and falling.

The position of English students is easily explained by strength of student numbers and places available in English universities. Scotland’s large percentage of stay-in-Scotland students can be attributed to a largely different education system, but also to the decision of the Scottish Parliament to allow Scottish and EU students to study free of charge in Scotland.  If they study in other parts of the UK they face up to £9,000 in fees.

Similarly, Northern Ireland differentiates between studying at home and elsewhere. In 2012 Northern Irish students paid £3,465 to study in their own country, but £9,000 to study elsewhere. The Welsh Government was for some unknown reason more generous. Welsh students paid just £3,465 to study in all parts of the UK. A UCAS report notes that Welsh students “are the only UK group of young applicants whose application rate to English institutions has risen in 2012”. We are either the most broad-minded nation, or the one with the most inadequate self-perception.

The effect is clear. Since 2010, and especially since the introduction of differential fees in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales has seen a disengagement between its students and home universities not witnessed in other countries of the UK, nor probably in Europe. Wales is now the only country where there is a decrease in students in its own universities and a corresponding increase in students in other countries. The Welsh Government policy seems to suggest to Welsh students that there is no merit in studying in Wales.

One may ponder the result of this brain drain. How many students come back to the country that invested thousands of pounds in their primary and secondary education? There are no readily available statistics on this, but one can assume that a substantial proportion contribute to economic activity elsewhere. And how are other aspects of Welsh life – be it in the health service, national and local government administration, or education – affected by this? One can cite Carmarthenshire education service, where just 20 per cent of the staff speak Welsh, a situation which desperately calls for more Welsh speakers.

The recently established Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol has been given responsibility to develop teaching through the medium of Welsh in Welsh universities, working in partnership with the universities and providing Welsh medium modules in a wide range of subjects. Lecturers and staff are appointed to develop innovative courses which can be delivered in all colleges.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales supports the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol by around £4 million annually, with the aim of developing provision and increasing take-up of the provision by students. The College is developing nicely, but for it to succeed the numbers of Welsh speaking students studying in Wales must be maximised. A change of funding could be the deciding factor for a few thousand more Welsh students to stay in Wales, and these will include several hundred Welsh-speaking students.

The Welsh Government now gives around £31 million to support Welsh students who study outside Wales. This money would be better spent on Welsh universities to lower fees for all Welsh students studying inside Wales, or it could target students from comparatively deprived communities. A system should be put in place to ensure that Welsh universities accept a greater proportion of Welsh applicants.

Some may worry that giving priority to the needs of the Welsh education system and Welsh civic life would not cater for those students who aspire academic excellence in Oxbridge or equivalent institutions.  However, only about 80 Welsh students a year enter these universities. Some especially targeted support could assist this small group, and also for students whose academic needs are not catered for by Welsh universities, and whose talents and qualifications are needed by Wales.

The solution to the well-being of the Welsh language, and its expanding use as language of home, society and work in a bilingual Wales, will probably not be found in a single grand initiative. Rather we need a myriad of smaller schemes, policies and actions which together will build this Wales. A change in the student grant subsidy to favour Welsh students staying in Wales will be a significant building block if not the cornerstone of the Wales so many of us envisage.

Heini Gruffudd is Chair of the campaigning group Dyfodol i’r Iaith.

22 thoughts on “Welsh Government’s £31m brain drain subsidy

  1. …….so, another article that is all about the Welsh Language! Why should Welsh students not be financially penalised for studying in England? Well, firstly they should be allowed to choose the best university and the most appropriate course for themselves…..if they have attained well at “A” level then they should be given the opportunity to enter a prestigious University. At present only Cardiff rates as one of the “Russell group” of universities. It isn’t just “Oxbridge” that warrants us giving special support. But here’s a moral problem……what about pupils from a deprived background or a poor school who have excelled themselves to gain a B and two Cs at A level? Are they less deserving of support if their own specialised subject is best catered for in England or Scotland?

    All I see in this piece from Heini Gruffudd is one more Nationalist trying to isolate Wales and shrink the consciousness of its people to a narrow, parochial view of Britain and the World. There are hints that “Welsh with everything” isn’t in the best interests of Wales….failure of pupils in Welsh Medium schools to take a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE, relatively poor attainment in English of pupils in WM schools and poor GCSE and A level attainment in English by newly qualified teachers entering the Welsh Medium primary school sector…..these are people who have “Lived their lives through Welsh” but are we really going to say that its OK that they don’t have the experience of the English Language to teach it in primary school?

  2. Except that isn’t the best part of being a student the fact that you move away from home, go to a place you don’t know and spread your wings in an unfamiliar environment? Surely restricting Welsh students’ choices to a small number of universities within a few hours’ drive of their homes will leave us with a generation of young people who’ve never properly flown the nest or broadened their horizons. Far from cutting subsidies to students who study outside Wales, maybe we should do the opposite, and encourage our brightest and best to go and see more of the world (or at the very least more of the UK) to make the most of their potential.

  3. The funding of our universities and the brain drain the current policy allegedly causes – with the economic problems that entails is a very important issue which deserves to be discussed.

    Unfortunately the author has tied it in the Welsh language and it seems sadly inevitable that the comments below will ignore the issue of university funding and this will be used as yet another opportunity for the usual suspects to repeat their well-rehearsed views on ‘the language.’ The real issue will, as usual, be ignored.

  4. Typical inward looking, protectionist attitude from a nationalist.

    School standards in Wales have irrefutably dropped in the last decade since the Welsh language lobby sunk their teeth in…. higher education in Wales will suffer the same fate if groups such as Dyfodol i’r Iaith are allowed too much influence.

  5. I disagree with him. Some courses just aren’t available in Wales. All of my friends who went to uni in England came back to Wales after graduating, so I don’t see what the problem is.

  6. Sounds like a no brainer to me. Why should the Welsh Government subsidise students studying in England?

    After reading this article, I don’t see anything that suggests that students should be ‘restricted’ from going to their chosen university. They are free to go wherever they like. And just like the English students, they can pay the full fees unless their families financial situation allows them funding.

    No other country subsidises students to study outside their country so why should Wales? It has nothing to do with the Welsh language; it has to do with common sense.

  7. I have a question…..or more to the point I have a problem. I don’t mind discussing this piece by Heini Gruffudd but I would love to know whether there is any factual basis to his piece or whether he is just plucking figures out of the air to support some spurious Nationalist agenda (If we keep all our students here we have fewer students from England who might stay here after they graduate).

    This statement:-
    “the share of applications by 18-year-olds to institutions in their home country is far lower in Wales than in Scotland and England. In those two countries, the share is 95 per cent. In Northern Ireland it is around 60 per cent and rising. In Wales it is just over 40 per cent and falling.”

    Since we are talking about applications and not acceptances the figures must be UCAS based for 2013.

    The number of applicants from Wales who applied for a university place in the UK in 2013 was 20,438.
    The number of applications to UK universities from Wales based applicants was 31,957 (Applicants apply to several Universities in different parts of the UK).
    The Number of applications from Wales domiciled students for a place in Wales was 16,176 or 50.6% of all applications ( not students)
    This was a fall of 2.7% on the figure for Welsh students applying for a place in Wales in 2012 but the overall number of Welsh students applying for any university place fell by 2.1%.

    However, applications aren’t students and applications aren’t places. To see how many Welsh domiciled students actually study in Wales you have to look at the 2012 figures (the latest available). For undergraduates the percentage is 66%, a fall of 1% from 2011.

    Where the “40% and falling” comes from I have no idea but Heini can come back and enlighten us.
    Now it is true that fewer students from Wales study in Wales than, say, English students study in England (96%) but we have a tiny number of faculties and a much smaller range of courses than England. We have to face facts; we are a small country and we cannot provide the facilities that are available a few hours away in England. The economics are simple: far more English students bring money to Wales when they come to study than is lost in subsidies to Welsh students going to England.

  8. For those of us who want to see the Welsh economy flourish so that in turn our standards of living rise this is a foolish policy. As Mr Gruffydd mentions, something can be done with regards to the small number of students who go and study at Oxbridge. Maybe they could in the short term also somehow accommodate those who are following courses essential to the Welsh economy and aren’t run in Wales eg Veterinary degrees…..until that is, they are offered here. It would also be a god idea to only pay for these exceptions if the students return to Wales to work and are paying taxes here. Of course, this depends on a Welsh tax system being set up which should become a reality in the near future.

  9. Pretty much in agreement with Heini Gruffudd’s comments – except why bring the language into it? The language element is secondary as all students – Welsh or English speaking – are affected by this deliberate policy – dictated more by Unionist dogma than real Welsh need.

    None of the commentors above point to the fact that the policy Mr. Gruffudd broadly advocates is also policy in Scotland – which has world class Universities and a global reputation. The reality is that education in Wales has been dismally failed by 14 years of Labour Party rule in this country, with Welsh Universities being forced to merge and educational rankings – as measured internationally – dropping like a stone.

    Labour have failed an entire generation in this country, and the rest are being educated to leave.

  10. Vaughan Gravenor-Howells says: “Sounds like a no brainer to me. Why should the Welsh Government subsidise students studying in England? ”

    Vaughan, even the fervent Welsh nationalist author managed to use phrases such as ‘other countries’ and ‘other parts of the UK’. Can you keep your anti-English prejudices on the downlow next time? Much thanks 🙂

  11. We’re basically paying the brightest kids to shove off and take their skills elsewhere. It’s ludicrous and has been pointed out on, no other government anywhere is daft enough to do it. Governments, Welsh or otherwise, aren’t funding university fees out of the goodness of their hearts – they’re doing it because A) it gets a certain proportion of votes and B) there’s supposed to be an economic gain from having a more educated populace.

    Leaving A aside, because as the comments indicate the support can go either way, and addressing B -that economic gain is massively diluted if you encourage said educated populace to leave the country!

  12. I agree the language is a red herring here and triggers a Pavlovian response. The issue is whether the Welsh government should support Welsh universities rather than export fees and that is quite independent of any language issue. As VG-H says no-one is proposing to restrict freedom of choice. Any student is free to go where she can get in. The question is should any subsidy be targeted or indiscriminate.

  13. Is the Language a red herring in this case R.Tred? I notice that Heini Gruffudd describes himself as;

    “Heini Gruffudd is Chair of the campaigning group Dyfodol i’r Iaith.”

    Does Dyfodol i’r Iaith campaign on further education funding issues? I think it is the funding issue that is a “Red Herring”. We are talking about preventing or deterring Welsh speakers from leaving Wales and reducing the number of university places in Wales available to non-Welsh speakers.

  14. Universities in Wales should serve Wales, both culturally and economically in terms of research and business spin-offs, and the educating of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, educators, medical staff etc. They’ve become much too big and self-serving.

  15. Leaving aside the language question perhaps we should look at what is actually offered at Welsh universities. As has been pointed out, courses are not available in all subjects. And then there is the question of how they are perceived, their quality and and their status. If you look at the Russell rankings you will, for instance, discover that St Andrews is at 6, Edinburgh and Glasgow at 16 and 17, and Queen’s Belfast at 25. The highest ranking Welsh university is Cardiff at 36, just ahead of Strathclyde at 37, Heriot-Watt at 40 and Dundee and Aberdeen at 43 and 44. We then reach Swansea at 49 just ahead of Stirling at 50. We then reach Aber at 58, Ulster at 60 and Bangor at 66. The other Welsh unis are way down the list.

    If you look at the individual subjects then some Welsh unis do better – in some subjects. But the overall impression is not that good. Perhaps rather than subsidising students it would be better to concentrate on improving the universities – and education generally.

  16. JJ – the language may be Heini Gruffudd’s preoccupation but that doesn’t alter the fact that there is a wider issue here, affecting Welsh universities and all Welsh students. I don’t think we should let our opinions on that wider issue be determined by whether we like the motivations of a minority or not.

  17. I recall the Charter for the University of Wales said that it was specifically to benefit Local (ie Welsh) society. But it has long been the case that Welsh Students have been “encouraged” to study in England while large numbers of other students, mainly English have replaced them. It has always been political and politics is always nationalist. Unionism is a very unpleasant nationalism.

    So no, we should not be paying for our best brains to leave the country when the very intention is that most will stay there. It’s always been part of the game of Anglicising Wales.

    The problems with our education system can mainly be laid at the door of the “Big Bang” of Comprehensive Education of 1965. It was a disaster. The Labour Party messed it up, the Unions are still blindly wedded to it and the Conservatives only want us to be English. We can only evolve out of this mess but the Unionists are not interested in any other route forward other than integration with England.

    There are other models of “Comprehensive Education” that we can adopt.

    As for the Welsh Language, we need more of it not less. Because Welsh is very phonetic it accelerates learning to read and write (in comparison to English), even for English speakers (shown by research in Flanders).

    There’s far too much Left/Right political dogma in Education here and not as much Welsh Nationalism as there is English Nationalism in English Education.

  18. Not just Heini Gruffudd’s Pre-occupation but his actual occupation R.Tred; he earns his living as a “Language consultant” and author of teach yourself Welsh books.

    I think I concentrated on the issue of discriminating in favour of Students who go to Welsh Universities and funding very clever students to go to Oxbridge. It’s hard to argue when the quoted figures seem to be wrong. The “shock horror” element rather ebbs when you realise that “40% and falling” as the figure for Welsh students studying in Wales is a bit of fantasy.

    The only thing that I haven’t touched on is the geographical logic of many students studying in England; Liverpool and Manchester are “local” universities for thousands in North Wales. Why wouldn’t students who live in Powys East go to Birmingham? Why wouldn’t students living in the South East go to Bristol?

    Bangor is often the logical destination for students from Ynys Mon, Gwynedd and Conwy but any further East?
    Aberystwyth? I went there from Ynys Mon but many cold wet days hitching up and down made me regret ignoring Liverpool, you know, with a rail connection?

    This petty Nationalist “keep ’em in Wales” dogma is just another nation building exercise. It wouldn’t benefit young people, nor Wales in the long term.

  19. Quote – ‘As for the Welsh Language, we need more of it not less. Because Welsh is very phonetic it accelerates learning to read and write (in comparison to English), even for English speakers (shown by research in Flanders).’ Flanders – hmm, now where is that? Good joke.

  20. The figures I used come from UCAS Analysis and Research, July 2012, How have applications for full-time undergraduate higher education in the UK changed in 2012. It is a study of 18 million applications since 2004. Para 71, page 27 states, “Amongst Welsh applicants there was an increase in the share of applications to Welsh institutions between 2004 and 2009. Every year since then the share has declined, with 2012 continuing this trend.”

    As the funding of students is a political decision that involves spending money available for Wales, it is appropriate that we discuss whether Wales should be at odds with Scotland and Northern Ireland, and what effect this seems to be having. Welsh for many might be a minority issue, but those who are concerned to see Welsh speakers and learners of Welsh given adequate opportunity to use the language are more than ever convinced that economic planning is more important to its survival than language rights and measures.

  21. Thanks for that Heini; you have answered one question; despite what R.Tred might think, your article was all about the language.

    The second question, regarding the statement “In Wales (the application figure) is just over 40%” remains a mystery. But, as I said before, its not the application rate that counts but the actual percentage of students who end up studying in Wales that counts. Since this figure is higher than the application rate (multiple applications from students) it argues that Welsh students show a preference for Wales or that the demand for A level grades is lower in Wales.

    As The NS&I have recently shown, as they ditched a farcical Welsh Language scheme that was virtually pointless because of the lack of take up, it isn’t the opportunity to use Welsh that is lacking, it is the WISH to use Welsh that is missing.

    Effectively we are left with a number of strident groups whose LIVING is dependent on persuading the country that we need to put Welsh speakers in jobs. The panic amongst these groups is almost palpable.

  22. @Jon Jones “it isn’t the opportunity to use Welsh that is lacking, it is the WISH to use Welsh that is missing” – quite wrong. As is typical, the NS&I Welsh offering is significantly inferior in quality to the English. No wonder there isn’t much take up. There is a farce here, but not the one you identify.

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