29 April 2016

Amanda Wilkinson, Director of Universities Wales, on the crucial role universities can play in helping Wales compete on the global stage.

One of the great strengths of our universities in Wales is their capacity to be key agents of change in Wales by creating a strong, knowledge-based economy and society. This is why universities must form a central role in the next Welsh Government’s plans, whatever form that takes after our elections in May, as they are not only capable but crucial to delivering what Wales needs to compete on a global stage. 

There are currently nearly 133,000 students in Wales’ nine universities, including part- and full-time students, undergraduates and postgraduates, and students from Wales, the rest of the UK and from 145 other countries around the world. We are very proud of our graduates, who are some of the most innovative, creative and employable in the UK.

Wales’ universities are national assets that bring widespread benefits not just to individuals, but also communities, the government and the nation as a whole. In addition to delivering programmes of study, they are major generators of investment and income for the wider Welsh economy, generating £4.6 billion of output in Wales in 2013/14.

Our universities are producing world leading research that is having a very real and significant impact on peoples’ lives – from improving the detection of abnormal blood clotting to safely disposing of high levels of nuclear waste; from exploring how sport can improve mutual respect and understanding to using computers to reduce preventable deaths in the health service; and from improving the quality of our bathing waters to reducing costs to our health service. According to the Research Excellence Framework 2014 almost half of our research is considered to be having a transformational effect on all walks of life beyond academia, and Welsh universities have the highest percentage of ‘world leading’ research in terms of its impact of any part of the UK.

The current Welsh Government’s science strategy aims to reinvigorate Wales’ economy by building upon its research strengths. Welsh Government has funnelled its efforts into recruiting top talent and creating scientific networks and infrastructure to support three Grand Challenge areas: life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment; and advanced engineering and materials.

To build on this investment and ensure Wales can sustain its excellent international reputation for research, investing in Wales’ research capacity and growing the nation’s skills base will be crucial for the future Welsh Government.

Research in Wales is currently funded via a dual support system with Quality Research (QR) funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales designed specifically to provide support to universities in Wales for research infrastructure, giving them the flexibility to determine the strategic direction of their research. QR funding must be protected by the future Welsh Government so as to not jeopardise the positive social and economic impact on Wales that is the result of many years’ worth of work and investment.

We encourage the future Welsh Government to recognise the economic and cultural importance of scientific and technological education, research and development, and support universities in their key role of delivering this for Wales. 

Our manifesto can be found here

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