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United-Kingdom-Wales:Higher Education

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Overview United Kingdom (Wales)

Contents

United-Kingdom-Wales:Political, Social and Economic Background and Trends

United-Kingdom-Wales:Historical Development

United-Kingdom-Wales:Main Executive and Legislative Bodies

United-Kingdom-Wales:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

United-Kingdom-Wales:Political and Economic Situation

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Wales:Fundamental Principles and National Policies

United-Kingdom-Wales:Lifelong Learning Strategy

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of Private Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:National Qualifications Framework

United-Kingdom-Wales:Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level

United-Kingdom-Wales:Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

United-Kingdom-Wales:Statistics on Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-Wales:Funding in Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Early Childhood and School Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Wales:Higher Education Funding

United-Kingdom-Wales:Adult Education and Training Funding

United-Kingdom-Wales:Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Wales:Teaching and Learning in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Wales:Assessment in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Wales:Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Teaching and Learning in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Assessment in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Teaching and Learning in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Assessment in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Teaching and Learning in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Assessment in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Teaching and Learning in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Assessment in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Types of Higher Education Institutions

United-Kingdom-Wales:First Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Wales:Bachelor

United-Kingdom-Wales:Short-Cycle Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Second Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-Wales:Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure

United-Kingdom-Wales:Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

United-Kingdom-Wales:Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Distribution of Responsibilities

United-Kingdom-Wales:Developments and Current Policy Priorities

United-Kingdom-Wales:Main Providers

United-Kingdom-Wales:Main Types of Provision

United-Kingdom-Wales:Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning

United-Kingdom-Wales:Teachers and Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Wales:Initial Education for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Conditions of Service for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Initial Education for Academic Staff in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Conditions of Service for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Continuing Professional Development for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Initial Education for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Conditions of Service for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Management and Other Education Staff

United-Kingdom-Wales:Management Staff for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Staff Involved in Monitoring Educational Quality for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Education Staff Responsible for Guidance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Other Education Staff or Staff Working with Schools

United-Kingdom-Wales:Management Staff for Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Management Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Quality Assurance

United-Kingdom-Wales:Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Educational Support and Guidance

United-Kingdom-Wales:Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Support Measures for Learners in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Guidance and Counselling in a Lifelong Learning Approach

United-Kingdom-Wales:Mobility and Internationalisation

United-Kingdom-Wales:Mobility in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Mobility in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Mobility in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-Wales:Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

United-Kingdom-Wales:Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments

United-Kingdom-Wales:National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-Wales:National Reforms in School Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:National Reforms in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Learning

United-Kingdom-Wales:National Reforms in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-Wales:National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability

United-Kingdom-Wales:European Perspective

United-Kingdom-Wales:Legislation

United-Kingdom-Wales:Glossary

The definition of higher education, according to Section 120 of the Education Reform Act 1988, is: 

‘education provided by means of a course of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 of the Act, that is, a course of a standard higher than the standard of courses leading to General Certificate of Education Advanced-level (GCE A level) or Business and Technology Education Council National Diploma or Certificate’.

Higher education courses can be provided by different types of institution: higher education institutions directly funded by Government through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW); and further education colleges. The article on ‘Types of Higher Education Institutions’ describes the different types and the remaining articles in the chapter focus on the range of programmes and levels of study that feature in the system.

Higher education in Wales shares a number of characteristics and structural features with higher education in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In all four parts of the United Kingdom, higher education institutions (HEIs) are autonomous self-governing bodies which offer degrees by virtue of their own degree awarding powers or the degree awarding powers of another institution. These degree awarding powers are recognised by the UK authorities (Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, UK and Scottish Parliaments). Institutions are responsible for appointing and employing their own staff (see the chapter on ‘Teachers and Education Staff’). Grants for specific research projects and programmes are administered on a UK-wide basis through the seven UK research councils.

Within the context of institutional autonomy, some common approaches and frameworks are used. There is no system for the accreditation of institutions but the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) makes judgements on UK institutions’ capability to manage their own quality and standards and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education provides the definitive reference point for institutions (see the article on ‘Quality Assurance in Higher Education’). Reflecting these commonalities and shared missions, a number of sector-led bodies operate on behalf of higher education institutions across the UK. These bodies include: 

  • Universities UK (UUK), whose members are the executive heads of UK institutions 
  • GuildHE, which along with UUK is a recognised representative body for higher education in the UK    
  • UCAS, which coordinates applications services across the UK    
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which collects data from higher education providers to support UK governments and higher education funding bodies in their regulatory and funding work
  • Higher Education Academy (HEA), which offers accreditation for courses and wider professional development opportunities that support staff who teach and/or support learning
  • Committee of University Chairs (CUC), which represents the chairs of UK university governing bodies and develops and promotes governance standards for higher education in the UK.

There are also a number of differences, particularly in relation to Scotland, which has distinct traditions of higher education. More recently, since the late 1990s, the devolved administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland have had responsibility for education and policies in some areas have diverged. The most notable of these are tuition fees and student support, the funding of institutions and the related governance arrangements. Teaching in Wales is now supported to a much greater extent by student tuition fees than by direct grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), which is concentrated on certain subjects and levels of study. Assessment of research continues to be undertaken on a UK-wide basis although there are differences in the way the four UK funding councils use the results to allocate funding for research infrastructure. See the article on higher education funding.

Policy objectives for the sector 

Within the UK, higher education is a devolved policy area, which means that most decisions that are made about higher education in Wales are taken by the Welsh Government. 

The Welsh Government’s policy priorities for higher education to 2020 are laid out in its Policy Statement on Higher Education (2013) which describes a number of aspects of a strategy which envisages higher education providers:

  • interacting with businesses to stimulate innovation and economic growth
  • working to enhance the employability of all graduates, whatever their age, background or course of study
  • working in partnership with the Welsh Government to develop international links
  • collaborating with further education providers to ensure that opportunities to progress are available to learners
  • making best use of opportunities to exploit new technologies
  • striving to provide the highest quality learning experience to all those with the potential to benefit
  • developing the sector's reputation for excellence in research
  • continuing to support the development of Welsh-medium higher education
  • developing more flexible models of provision to build a more successful and sustainable future.

The specific priorities for the higher education sector for each academic year are set out in an annual remit letter from the Welsh Government to HEFCW. 

Priorities for 2015/16, set out in the letter published in March 2015, include commencement of the implementation of a new regulatory system in response to the revised funding environment introduced by the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015 (for further information, see the section below on the legislative framework for Welsh higher education). The letter also highlights the ongoing review of higher education funding and student finance being led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond, which is due to report in autumn 2016. The Minister for Education and Skills identifies the priorities for that review as including:

  • widening access to higher education
  • supporting the skills needs of Wales
  • strengthening part-time and postgraduate provision in Wales
  • long-term financial sustainability.

For an overview of recent shifts and trends in higher education, see the Universities UK publication Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education 2015, the latest in a series which provides a summary of annual statistical data about the UK higher education sector in the context of the trends of the previous decade.

Legislative Framework

Higher education is a devolved policy area, meaning that since devolution in 1999, most decisions in this area are taken by the Welsh Government. However, many functions had already been transferred to Wales in the decades prior to devolution. For an analysis of the impact of devolution on higher education in Wales, see the Universities UK (UUK) 2008 research report, Devolution and Higher Education.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) was set up under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 as an arms-length body responsible for the distribution of public funds for teaching and research infrastructure in Wales. 

Student finance (levels of tuition fee and student support) was devolved later, under the Higher Education Act 2004. The Act brought about substantial changes to what institutions could charge full-time undergraduate (first cycle) students from 2006 and further changes to the regulations prescribing the maximum annual amount for tuition fees have applied since 2012. As in England, higher education institutions in Wales have, since autumn 2012, been able to charge students up to £9,000 a year for tuition, subject to committing to more ambitious measures to widen access and having their proposed approach agreed by HEFCW. Students do not actually pay the whole amount, as the Welsh Government offers a fee grant to offset it. Fees for postgraduate (second and third cycle) students are not regulated. Note that public funding for research other than research infrastructure is not devolved to Wales; it is allocated by the Research Councils on a UK-wide basis. See the article on ‘Higher Education Funding’ for further information on each of these features.

The legislative framework was changed in 2015 with the passing of the Higher Education (Wales) Act 2015. The Act revises HEFCW’s regulatory functions and makes provision for a new higher education regulatory system for Wales. It aims to:

  • ensure robust and proportionate regulation of institutions in Wales whose courses are supported by Welsh Government backed higher education grants and loans
  • safeguard the contribution made to the public good arising from the Welsh Government’s significant financial subsidy of higher education
  • maintain a strong focus on fair access to higher education
  • preserve and protect the institutional autonomy and academic freedom of Wales’ universities.

HEIs in Wales are autonomous self-governing bodies. Although degree-awarding powers and access to a ‘university title’ are controlled by the UK Government on a UK-wide basis (see the article on ‘Types of Higher Education Institutions’), the structure of programmes is not regulated by law. Subject to the status of their degree-awarding powers, higher education institutions are free to design and offer such programmes and awards as they wish. However, all institutions structure their programmes along broadly similar lines (a three cycle framework), which conforms to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) qualifications framework. 

Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ)

Although not required by law to do so, all institutions design their qualifications in accordance with the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ, available here), developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (see below) and which forms part of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. The FHEQ is intended to promote consistency across the sector by facilitating a shared and common understanding of the expectations associated with typical qualifications and ensuring that qualifications with the same titles are of an equivalent academic standard.  

The fundamental premise is that qualifications should be awarded on the basis of achievement of outcomes and attainment rather than years of study. 

The FHEQ has five levels, numbered 4–8 (levels 1–3 are allocated to levels of education which precede higher education). 

Qualification descriptors illustrate the distinct level of intellectual achievement for each level of the framework. These qualification descriptors describe the threshold academic standard for those qualification types in terms of the levels of knowledge and understanding and the types of abilities that holders of the relevant qualification are expected to have.

Subject benchmark statements make explicit the nature and characteristics of awards in a specific subject area and set out the attributes and capabilities of graduates in that subject. They exemplify what the generic outcomes set out in the qualification descriptors in the FHEQ might look like in practice.

The main types of qualifications are illustrated in the following table.

FHEQ Level Corresponding FQ-EHEA cycle Typical higher education qualifications within each level
8 Third cycle (end of cycle) qualifications Doctoral degrees (eg. PhD/DPhil, EdD, DBA, DClinPsy)
7 Second cycle (end of cycle) qualifications

Master's degrees (eg. MPhil, MLitt, MRes, MA, MSc)

Integrated master's degrees (eg. MEng, MChem, MPhys, MPharm)

Primary qualifications (or first degrees) in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science (eg. MB, ChB, MB BS, BM BS, BDS, BVSc, BVMS)

7

Postgraduate diplomas

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) / Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)

Postgraduate certificates

6 First cycle (end of cycle) qualifications

Bachelor's degrees with honours (eg. BA/BSc Hons)

Bachelor's degrees

6

Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

Graduate diplomas

Graduate certificates

5 Short cycle (within or linked to the first cycle) qualifications

Foundation degrees (eg. FdA, FdSc)

Diplomas of Higher Education (DipHE)

Higher National Diplomas (HND)

4

Higher National Certificates (HNC)

Certificates of Higher Education (CertHE)

(Adapted from QAA (2014). The Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies, page 17)

The FHEQ has been self-certified as compatible with the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (FQ-EHEA). Information including the 2009 report of the FHEQ advisory group is available here.

In Wales the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW) is an over-arching structure designed to provide greater clarity on the qualifications system and it includes higher education, regulated qualifications and quality assured lifelong learning. All HEIs with their own degree awarding powers (DAP) make use of it. It articulates with the FHEQ, which form its higher education ‘pillar’.

Structure of the academic year

The structure of the academic year is not regulated by law. However, for funding and reporting purposes, the academic year runs from 1 August to 31 July.

The teaching year typically starts in late September/early October and ends in mid to late June. The year is traditionally divided by breaks into three teaching terms, although some institutions organise teaching along a two-semester system. A small number of institutions offer accelerated degrees which require student attendance for longer periods during the year.

For postgraduate (second and third cycle) students, the organisation of time varies. Where a taught master’s programme has a duration of one year, this normally means a full calendar year, e.g. October to October. 

Teaching typically takes place between 9.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m., from Monday to Friday, but may take place at other times. Part-time courses may be offered during the day or in the evening. 

Information on legislation referenced in articles about Wales is available here. A glossary of terms can be found here