Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams has written to the UK universities minister Michelle Donelan to express her worries over a planned numerical ‘cap‘ of English student numbers at Welsh universities in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Williams has stated that the (temporary) proposal was ‘not in the best interests of the UK as a whole‘, while Ms Donelan countered that she was ‘disappointed‘ by the Welsh government’s approach.
In her letter, Ms Williams wrote:
I am deeply concerned that you have chosen to place a control on Welsh institutions rather than work with the Welsh Government to achieve a solution that is compatible with devolution. do not believe this approach is in the best interests of the UK as a whole, and demonstrates a surprising unwillingness to respect complementary policies in each nation.
She went on to say the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales was consulting with the local higher education sector on an approach to monitoring admissions to retain stability and it was ‘regrettable‘ these proposals would cut across that. Ms Williams added:
I will consider the consequences for Wales arising from the UK government’s policy and take further action to ensure that those interests are protected. My decision about how to progress will based on what it is right for Welsh students and Wales as a whole.
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Education has stated this is an ‘incredibly difficult time‘, which was why it had announced a support package that included controls on student numbers to ‘bring stability‘ to the higher education sector while protecting students and staff from the effects of COVID-19. They commented:
We want everyone who achieves their entry requirements to be able to go to university and these measures are a vital part of ensuring this, while avoiding harmful over-recruitment among providers which could go against the interests of both students and universities. We will shortly be setting out further details on how the student number controls will be implemented, including how they will work in the devolved administrations.
This news comes after Universities UK warned that the COVID-19 pandemic was putting its institutions in great financial danger, with sharp cuts predicted in international student numbers. Cambridge, Manchester and Reading have confirmed that online teaching will continue into the next academic year, while Oxford and Hertfordshire announced that their campuses would open for face-to-face sessions under strict social distancing guidelines.