Changes to Higher Education Funding in Wales: How Will Postgraduate Students Benefit?

By Tomos Evans.

The Welsh Government has announced plans to allocate a further £5 million to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales in order to invest in postgraduate education in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. This will allow Welsh universities to offer bursaries and grants to Welsh students. In response to the recommendations made in the Diamond Review, published in September 2016, it is hoped that such a move will encourage students to progress to postgraduate courses, whilst also encouraging students to return to Wales.

On October 18th, the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams, announced some of the greatest higher education funding reforms in recent years. It is expected that these changes will increase the number of postgraduate and undergraduate students in Welsh universities. The funding adjustments come after a gradual increase in the uptake of postgraduate courses. In data collected by Universities UK, the number of students leaving UK universities with a postgraduate taught qualification increased by 35.1% to 60,595 between 2004-05 and 2013-14. In the same period, the number of students leaving UK universities with a research postgraduate qualification grew by 28.6% – a somewhat more modest increase of 5,490. However, the number of young people from lower income backgrounds studying postgraduate courses is far smaller in. As a result of the Welsh Government’s proposals, it is hoped that this will change.

Whilst university applications for undergraduate courses in Wales fell by 7% this year – a steeper decline than any other UK nation – proposed changes to undergraduate degree funding is also hoped to further incentivise young people to study in Welsh institutions. One such strategy is to retain tuition fee levels at £9,000 instead of increasing them to £9,250, as is the case in England. In another move by the Welsh Government, the repayment threshold for undergraduate loans will be increased from £21,000 to £25,000.

In a statement published on the Welsh Government’s website, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said that the government aimed to deliver “a stable and sustainable higher education system in Wales”. Ms Williams added that the government’s “on track to deliver the most equitable and progressive student support system in the UK” and that the plans “support both students and universities”.

Jake Smith, the Vice President for Postgraduate Students at Cardiff University has welcomed the announcement from the Welsh Government. In a statement published on the University’s Student Union website, Mr Smith commended the “positive development in Welsh higher education”, describing postgraduate study as “a vital development route for many students”. He added that he is looking forward to working with all stakeholders in order to “ensure as much of the money as possible reaches the students themselves.”

Universities Wales, the body which represents universities in Wales, said in a statement published on their website that the additional funding for postgraduate study is “welcome”, ensuring that “Wales continues to deliver world-leading research”. However, they also called for “investment in our institutions, for this excellence to be realised.”

Despite the commencement of the new funding scheme as early as next year, its effects are unlikely to be felt for some time.

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