Interim data, colourful metaphors


Blwyddyn newydd dda!

A happy new year to you all and I'm delighted to see that the Christmas greeting in the last blog of 2012 caused the now almost annual rumpus. Plus ca change, eh? If you pardon yet more bilingualism!

To kick off 2013: A fundamental aspect of education policy that is posing a challenge for the Welsh government, hand-in-hand with the sort of statistics that Sir Humphrey would describe as "difficult".

Those figures point to a considerable fall in the number of pupils from Wales applying to university in 2013 - not pupils applying to universities in Wales but Welsh pupils applying to study at university. The "difficult" bit is that, so far, the fall appears to be far greater among pupils here than elsewhere in the UK.

Why? When students from Wales are shielded from tuition fees over some £3,500 thanks to the Welsh government's subsidy - a generous, expensive subsidy that is not on offer to students living in England?

Yes, this is "early data" as the Welsh government points out. The information was gathered in December and is already out of date.

Yes, there may still be a late surge before the deadline in the middle of the month, but then you'd imagine the same is true of England and Scotland. There too, there are falls in applications but nowhere is the drop as striking as in Wales. Here the fall is 11.7% - nearly double that in England at 6.3% and in a different league to the fall in Scotland of 3.9%. There's a slight increase in Northern Ireland.

Yes, it's bang on to say that the final figures last year - the first year of higher tuition fees - confirmed a drop of just 1.9% in applications amongst pupils in Wales wanting to go on to higher education, a far smaller fall than in England. But if the body representing higher education institutions in Wales saw then a sign the "good deal on offer in Wales" was getting through to pupils, what are they seeing now?

And yes, you can point - as the Welsh union representing teachers and lecturers has done - to "pretty savvy" youngsters who these days more than ever weigh up the qualification versus the debt. But again, wouldn't that be true of young people in all parts of the UK? And on the face of it, isn't that calculation even less attractive in England, where there's no such subsidy and therefore, a prospect of far greater debt?

The final count in a few weeks' time may close the gap between the four nations and the National Union of Students is spot on in pointing out that while an 11.7% fall sounds gargantuan, the drop in applications actually amounts to 1,500 pupils deciding against going into higher education. Suddenly that sounds rather less dramatic.

All those who've said that it's too early to come to any firm conclusions are bang on the money too.

All the same, the Welsh government will be acutely aware that the whole point of digging deep into the public purse to offer financial support to students was to prevent bright young Welsh pupils being put off going to college. These figures say they are being put off - and more so here than anywhere else.

The Conservatives' Angela Burns, is never short of a metaphor or two and the shadow education minister is no fan of the Labour government's policy on student fees. In the past she's likened it to a "runaway train lugging bags of public money" and "a half-baked scheme balanced precariously on the cross-border flow of students".

Today she keeps it relatively simple and claims that - if today's figures turn out be anything like accurate - the Welsh government's flagship subsidy policy is "in tatters".

If the figures turn out to be accurate - if - there will certainly be more colourful metaphors to come and some tough reasoning to be done.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    (16) I see your point C. but hope you don't believe that computers already used by students are in some way 'controlled'!

    (13) Alf, right with your poorer parents explanation,plus the pitiful amount of 'solid' private sector work about.

    Triple dip recession is now certain. .Even the wealthy with big savings get poorer.There is no answer

    Sorry lads but the world really is in a hell of a mess,

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    #16 Many university subjects cannot be mastered entirely over the wire. You cannot be a physicist or chemist unless you have spent your time in laboratories (probably 1500 hours). Similarly, mastering a language requires more than just listening to tape-recordings.
    But, you are right: more means worse. You have to be a cock-eyed optimist to believe that the increase in passes is all hard work

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I believe it has been diluted, too many students going which has reduced the uniqueness of being in Uni.
    As to why Uni's are still used, that's down to control of subject matter and maintaining the integrity of the qualification in my view, just uncontrolled computers is therefore not an option. Still we need uni's but not as many places, after all we can't all be Stephen Hawking brains can we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I guess the reason is that shown by recent tax summaries. There is a low proportion of workers in Wales making sufficient to pay higher-rate income tax; and thus possibly beginning to move into a region where they can find a few thousand pounds - by painful choices - to act as the Bank of Mum&Dad. No parental support: no going to university.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Sorry Blwyddyn Newydd Dda Betsan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Have you thought the logical reason is they and their parents simply can't afford to send them to University. Also what is the point when all they will look forward to will be a life filling shelves in Tesco or getting food from the ever increasing food banks. Out to a life of starvation in 2013 UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Please.!

    Have your New Years Resolutions disappeared down the festive pan already?

    There's our Betsan, and that nice Mr. Cornock, probably sniffing and snuffling their way through Beechams powders and balsam coated paper hankies, and you do nothing but come out with the naughties.

    I can sense "This Entry is now closed for comments" might not be too far away !

    Wake up !

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Go to the Universiy of Maastricht for around 3000 Euros and get a top 100 Uni education in English for a third of the price of most of the UK's Russell Group offerings.

    Dutch Unis generally tend to 'deliver' especially on original research. If I was18 you wouldn't see me for dust!

    Happy New Year? I seriously doubt it!!! In any language...

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed to save the moderators the trouble.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Happy New Year Betsan or as the majority of Welsh poeple would say "Happy New Year". Your article is even more confused than usual, however further proof that the higher education sector in Wales is far too big but since the private sector is nearly extinct, people have to work somewhere. As for the Wg fees policy being in tatters, hardly a surprise...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Blwyddyn newydd dda indeed Betsan! Apologies if I'm considered a contributor to the 'annual rumpus'... However, don't expect this year to be any quieter. We're only 4 days in and we've already had the Radio Cymru debacle and police called in for a dotty former eisteddfod archdruid refusing to pay for groceries until the shop assistant say the amount in Welsh. Apathy will soon run out in Wales....

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Is there a job or a decision in the country that is not the governments? Are they up front about the purpose and intent of a uni education did you hear the blurb about the next generation of leaders who dwelleth not where and so who wants to be what when they grow up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    You're not going to like this.....

    But why the hell are universities still used?

    Surely a £500 computer set-up in the home, would suffice. After all, the will to work is really the most important factor here.

    And please...Lets have none of that " It makes you a well rounded member of society" baloney !

    Keeps puffed up and unnecessary clever-dicks in employment more likely !

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I think the thought of being in debit thanks to our hypocritical politicians who had Mummy & Daddy to pay their fees to Oxford or Cambridge or had government grants now abolished by them plus the reality of years of hard studying will come to nothing only to be forced to take menial jobs in perpetuity from others as they will never be able to pay off their loans or get a decent well paid job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Happy new year Betsan
    Now fees for HE are in my humble opinion merely a pre tax on all who decide to strive for better and I believe that HE should be free to all, rationed only by ability to succeed.
    Whoever said it is only fair for students to contribute to the costs of HE really got it badly wrong. Who was that?



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