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4 December 2020

QAA welcomes proposals for new Wales higher education Commission

James Harrison
Lead Policy Officer for Nations and Europe, QAA

Earlier this year, the Welsh Government published their draft Tertiary Education and Research Bill. The bill proposed establishing a new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER), to be operational from 2023. The Welsh Government have said that they intend to put the bill before the Welsh Parliament following the election in May 2021.


If the Bill is passed the new Commission will replace the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) who have contributed enormously to Welsh Higher Education and had the interests of students at the forefront of their work to ensure the sector has a positive impact on society and the economy. QAA has worked closely with HEFCW since 1997 and greatly appreciates their constructive ways of working for Wales and their commitment to cooperation across the whole of the UK.


The Commission will have powers to fund higher education, apprenticeships, research and innovation, and other activities in connection with tertiary education such as information, advice and guidance. The Commission will also be required to maintain a register of tertiary education providers in Wales.


On the topic of quality assurance, the bill proposes that the Commission will have the power to delegate the function of assessing the quality of higher education to a body designated by Welsh Ministers, in consultation with higher education institutions and other appropriate stakeholders. The Commission may also publish quality assurance frameworks in consultation with persons the Commission considers appropriate. For external reviews of higher education, the Welsh government intend for regulations to specify that these should take place once every six years, which would continue the practice of cyclical reviews of higher education institutions that Wales sees today.


The Commission will also be required to publish a Learner Engagement Code, setting out the ways in which learners’ interests should be represented in the governance and management of providers.


This week, QAA has formally responded to the Welsh Government consultation on the draft bill, and has broadly welcomed the proposals. We believe the proposed Learner Engagement Code can ensure learner engagement is at the heart of the tertiary education system in Wales, while also learning from positive practice that has already taken place at some universities, such as student charters.


We welcome the opportunity that the bill can bring in terms of supporting flexible learner pathways across the tertiary system, and believe there could be a future role for the designated quality body in driving forward enhancement-led projects to support student transitions, similar to those we’ve already led in Scotland.


QAA generally support the proposals to create a designated body to perform assessment functions for higher education in Wales, although there are areas where we would welcome more clarification in a future iteration of the bill, as we would like to see more specific requirements for the consultation of students in the process, as well as more details on the designation period. We would like the scope of function of the designated body to include the ability to carry out wide-ranging enhancement activities that can support the entire tertiary education sector in collaboration with other stakeholders.


Overall, this is an interesting period for education in Wales, and we look forward to seeing the legislation develop in the months ahead. In the meantime, QAA will continue its work in collaboration with HEFCW and universities and colleges in Wales to ensure higher education and the overall student experience is the best quality it can be.