Education and Devolution in Wales: Heaven or Hell?

Within recent years there has been no doubt that higher education has faced challenges on a significant and unprecedented scale. With the responsibility for student fees now lying firmly on the shoulders of the students themselves, this new conceptualisation of the university student as a consumer seems to have polarised opinion. For some is a positive rebranding that emphasizes accountability (MacMillan & Cheney 1996, McCulloch 2009) while for others it is a damaging metaphor that is altering the very fabric of higher education beyond all recognition.
Within Wales in particular, these changes have been particularly acute. The formation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999 and the devolution of education policy from Westminster to Cardiff Bay has resulted in a series of challenges laid squarely at the feet of higher education institutions within the Principality. Calls for merger and the introduction of fee subsidisation for Welsh students studying across the UK have resulted in concerns for the continued viability of Welsh higher education institutions within an increasingly competitive environment.

This paper seeks to evaluate the efficacy of Welsh Government policy in relation to higher education based on a critical analysis of the ideological framework under which it has been developed. There is today, a clear demand for mass higher education and a global demand for high skilled labour (MacMillan & Cheney 1996, McCulloch 2009), but has the desire for a distinct Welsh agenda and a seemingly nationalist approach to policy formation actually resulted in more negative than positive outcomes for higher education? This paper will also seek to provide a perspective on the likely challenges ahead for the Welsh Government in developing a higher education framework that will address the needs of all in the widening global marketplace.