You might have seen a story on the news tonight about cuts to Higher Education funding in Wales; which is part of the budget announcement from the Welsh Assembly.
The Education Minister said yesterday that universities shouldn’t be exempt from the public service cuts that are impacting on our everyday lives. However, in my view universities aren’t there to provide a ‘service'. They invest in our future, our economy and our country’s development. It is for this reason that I have been lobbying my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Assembly to further negotiate with the Minister and make the case that the cuts to Welsh universities are too great. The Liberal Democrats fought hard, negotiated and ultimately made the case for our Wales HE sector during the budget negotiations and have successfully convinced the Minster to reconsider the reduction in funding.
So that's £31M back into the Welsh Higher Education budget and money will be provided for part time courses - £5M (this is particularly welcome for students who have to work to support their studies) and scientific research (£5M).
We have two universities in Ceredigion (Aberystwyth and Lampeter) and both Institutions contribute a huge amount to the local economies of the towns. They are major employers and stimulate the local economy. We often hear about 'world leading research' being performed locally (my twitter account confirms it!) and that impacts on society as a whole and far beyond Wales. It is for that reason that we need to continue to invest in our HE sector and recognise the important role that universities play in society.
Universities in Wales will still have to deal with substantial amounts of cuts (which is still a concern) and it will be a challenge for them. But, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have stood up for the sector in the Assembly and will continue to do so. Since 1999 the funding gap between Welsh and English universities has increased; worsened by the current Welsh government policy which sees tens of millions of Welsh government resources diverted to English universities. Liberal Democrat policy (2013) made it clear that we would like to see a refocus on support for living costs; which is the real barrier to higher education.
We need a higher education system thats sustainable, ensures fair access and supports high class universities in Wales. Whilst we wait for the publication of the Diamond review all parties must set out their proposals for HE funding BEFORE the general election; so that the voters can decide which party stands up for higher education and which ones don't.