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Leading Welsh academic Richard Wyn Jones attacks Welsh Government funding for universities

Leading Welsh academic Richard Wyn Jones attacks Welsh Government funding for universities

Universities in Wales are lagging behind those in the rest of the UK in terms of research funding and it’s time the gap was plugged, according to one of the nation’s best-known academics.

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, who heads the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, said it was “disastrous” that the Welsh Government had apparently abandoned its intention to follow the recommendations of the 2018 Reid Review and increase research funding.

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He said: “Most developed societies view universities as the key to building a better future. University research and innovation activity is seen as particularly vital for dealing with the big societal challenges – climate change, post-Covid recovery etc. But not in Wales.

“The Welsh Government has dumped its strategy for encouraging research and innovation in universities as developed by the Reid Review – this without anything approaching an adequate explanation let alone replacement. No explanations have been forthcoming since either.”

Prof Jones said that new figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed the extent to which the Welsh Government has been “systematically undermining” the research base of Welsh universities with a massive real terms cut in the funding council (HEFCW) budget for research. This had happened, he said, at a time when Scotland especially, but England too, had tried to protect their research bases.

Prof Jones said: “Of course, funding councils are only one way of funding research in universities, with the UK Government’s Research and Innovation body UKRI being the other main driver. Unfortunately, however, the Welsh record here is dire. We get around 3.1% of the spend while having 5.9% of the population – a gap worth around £153m a year.

“Indeed, the whole point of the unaccountably jettisone) Reid strategy was to try to address this massive gap in performance. All in all, it’s a disastrous situation which is really going to hurt us in future.”

David Blaney, chief executive of the higher education funding council HEFCW, said: “Our vision for research and innovation sets out our commitments and ambitions for the higher education research and innovation sector in Wales which in turn will help secure Wales’ position as a world-leading partner of research and innovation globally.

“It is important that the university research base is sustainably funded to provide long-term stability and promote agility in responding to new challenges and meeting the policy priorities of the Welsh Government.

“Our core research, innovation and engagement – RIE – funding is crucial in enabling our institutions to build their research capacity so that they can be competitive in bidding for UKRI funding and other sources of funding in a UK-wide, and increasingly international field. Adequate investment in core research and innovation infrastructure, and in skilled and experienced research staff, is a fundamental prerequisite to being able to make credible bids for competitive funding. To support this, we continue to pursue strengthened core RIE funding.”

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, chair of Universities Wales, the representative body for Welsh universities, said: “We have consistently called for an increase in the level of research and innovation investment in Wales including, most recently, in our response to the Welsh Government’s 2022-23 budget. The implementation of the Reid Review’s recommendations was also a key pillar in our asks of political parties in the 2021 Senedd election.

“Research and innovation by Welsh universities brings tangible benefits to people and places in Wales. In addition, our universities’ work will be crucial in tackling the profound economic and social challenges we face including climate change, demographic shifts and the impact of technological change on the workplace.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Research by universities and other organisations in Wales is funded from various sources, including the Welsh Government, UK Government, the European Union, businesses, charities and community organisations. Welsh universities have benefited from high levels of funding from all of these sources in recent years.

“To prepare for the loss of EU research and development funding, and the impact this will have on universities and others, the Welsh Government has been seeking to work with its UK counterparts on plans for the future. The Welsh Government will continue to work with HEFCW to explore how the allocation of research funding can be further strategically developed to secure grants from other sources.

“A collaborative approach will maximise the value of HEFCW’s research funding in support of the Welsh Government’s priorities for research development and innovation, and HEFCW’s vision for research and innovation in Wales.

“We are proud that Welsh students benefit from the most generous living costs grants in the UK. We remain the only country in Europe to provide equivalent support to all undergraduates and postgraduates, ensuring students of all ages are supported with their living costs, while also incentivising students to stay and return to Wales to continue with their post-graduate studies.

“This is crucial for our economy, social mobility and research community.”

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