Skip to main content

Speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language.

First published:
8 June 2022
Last updated:

Thank you colleagues.

It’s great to be here as part of trinity St David’s bicentennial celebrations.

Now I gather that back in the eighteen twenties it took almost 25 years from the first proposal to establish the university to the first twenty-six students arriving in Lampeter.

I know that these days there are occasional frustrations with government, HEFCW or local authorities regarding planning and capital funding decisions…

But even then, I think we’re slighter fleeter of foot in getting permissions and funding out of the door…

More seriously, I would like to thank Medwin for the use of the facilities here at the technique today.

Like all higher education institutions I know the university of Wales trinity saint David is rising to the challenge of delivering impactful learning to students and degree apprentices as we emerge from the long shadow cast over us by the pandemic.

I know that you have exciting and interesting ambitions to strengthen links with further education and higher-level technical qualifications, and I will say something about the importance of distinctiveness and collaboration a little later on.

But first, the, rather broad, title I’ve been given today is ‘higher education in Wales’.

What I propose to cover instead today is a small, but significant, distinction.

I would like to focus on higher education in and for Wales.

It is an echo from the founding charter of the university of Wales. It says:

“there shall be and there is hereby constituted and founded a university in and for Wales”

  • For both men and women to be eligible equally;
  • For north, mid and south Wales; and
  • For the advancement of the nation.

So whilst these days we might focus on

Widening access,

National well-being

And research impact,

There are ties that bind us to the grand ambitions of those working men and women that helped create higher education for Wales.

And the founding of St David’s college two hundred years ago to give access to higher education for church ordinands in Lampeter was an example of a distinctive institution, educating citizens for the world – the world of the church in that example – and located where it was specifically given the distances- presumably by horse - from the other available institutions of oxford and Cambridge.

And just as I am sure the ordinands of St David’s college will have structure their sermons, i will draw on 3 themes today.

I am going to focus on:

  • The importance of the distinctiveness of institutions as they operate within a national system;
  • The importance of students as citizens, enabling them to grow as healthy, educated and employable citizens; and
  • The importance of providers responsibilities to people and also to place, in particular after the pandemic.

Strategic duties

Two hundred years on we are embarking on a set of transformative reforms in Wales. I want to look at the role of higher education beyond the ambit of the tertiary education and research bill. But I want to start with the bill, which I took through its stage 2 proceedings last week and to thank those here who have been working so constructively with us on this.

The new strategic duties - the way in which we are putting our values and ambitions into law will guide the new commission, the sector and our institutions in focusing on the success and wellbeing of learners,

Of all ages,

Across all settings

And in all communities.

Core principles, values and ambitions right across higher education and the entire tertiary sector.

A renewed commitment to life-long learning;

A focus on wider participation and equality of opportunity

Global in outlook, with a clear civic mission;

Continuous improvement, competitive and collaborative research;

And an expansion of provision through the medium of Welsh building on the work of Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol which celebrated its first 10 years last week.

And my message is this.

There is no get out of jail free card on any of this.

This vision, these duties apply to all parts of the tertiary sector – and I – and the commission – will expect all universities to deliver.

This is the first time we are putting the essence of Welsh tertiary education into law.

But this is not a straitjacket, it is a licence to innovate.

It gives you the tools to maintain and enhance institutional and sector quality

It reflects the best of what we have always valued.

It draws strength from our common roots -

Colleges founded by and for working men and women;

Locally proud but national and international in scope; and

Working with industry to advance innovation, technology and workforce skills.

A clear line of sight from the founding vision of higher education in Wales to the needs and opportunities of the 21st century and beyond.

Common roots – but now to be nurtured by a new national steward - the commission.


And turning then to those three themes I outlined in a moment ago.

Whilst we have common roots that commonality does not mean that each and every institution should conform, Ikea style, to the same structure, size and form.

Far from it.

Each and every university – and college – makes and will continue to make a significant contribution to our national goals and to national life in their own way.

But we need a further evolution of how we

Work together,

How we respect and indeed enhance our strengths and differences,

And how in doing so, we succeed nationally and internationally.

The commission will help institutions build on their own strengths and missions.

And at the same time, it will support each one to operate and complement each other as part of a whole sector approach.

Distinctive institutions, working in partnership., partnership between universities and between universities and other providers.

In getting this right, we can ensure:

Students, of all ages, with the widest possible access to the fullest learning and training opportunities possible;

That institution-based research and innovation works is part of a thriving national and international environment;

And that by being responsible and active in each community and region, we maximise the potential of all citizens, companies and communities.

As the national steward, the commission will respect autonomy.

We are legislating for that.

It will support institutional strengths, mission and delivery, whilst recognising that we all benefit from a system of strong complementary institutions.

In delivering for a wider range of learners, at different times in their careers and lives, we can work together for national prosperity and thriving communities.

Every one shares this responsibility.

But how that is delivered - to what extent, at what times, by who - will vary from institution to institution.

We must be bolder in recognising that Wales’s tertiary educations institutions vary and differ in many key aspects and in supporting that diversity.

They differ in size, mission, research capacity, widening access, outcomes and so on.

I urge university leaders, senior teams, chairs and governing bodies to be clear and focussed about the unique role that your particular institution can play within the tertiary system in Wales.

I want future funding and strategy to recognise this.

But I want you to meet this challenge even before we establish the commission.

Be clear and confident in who you are and what you deliver.

That will ensure that we can co-construct an approach that both helps institutions build on their missions;

Supports their shared role within a national system;

And delivers on a national strategy towards national objectives.

That must be our way forward as a strong and sustainable system.

And when we move forward with a genuine tertiary sector wide approach, we cannot simply copy and paste from current funding streams and formulas.

When an institution is doing the heavy lifting in its communities to widen access and works hard to understand the local labour market and business needs - it will be supported to maintain and enhance this vital work.

Those who are recruiting, educating and continuing to develop our key workers - must be funded and supported to keep innovating in how they teach and train.

Others have a greater capacity and capability to produce world-leading research across the disciplines. They will be supported and stretched in maintaining and increasing quality and impact – something of crucial importance to the nation.

It is right that all institutions contribute in some way across these domains.

But those contributions vary, according to strengths and missions.

We are a small nation. The landscape of our higher education can draw on the advantages that brings. We must better share and articulate how those strengths complement each other and be confident of our place in the landscape, knowing it will be recognised.

As we move towards implementation of the bill and the new commission, I want to work with you on this.

Through the looking forward group’s work, i know that you recognise the need to build on diverse and varied strengths in how you work together for the benefit of people and places.

So this approach will be critical for my first statement of priorities, through to the commission’s strategic plan, and through to outcome agreements.

Students as citizens

Moving onto my second theme – students as citizens.

In this room, we can all agree.

A university education is transformative.

It broadens the mind,

Builds social and cultural capital,

And nurtures knowledge and skills to help us succeed in work, life and society.

But are we doing enough to articulate and make those benefits real?

Do we truly demonstrate that Wales’s universities deliver this in an authentic and attractive way?

In this room, we are obviously persuaded. But do your host communities, businesses and public services know and understand the added-value that students get from your university?

I am not convinced we can answer those questions as positively as we might like.

I know all of you share the commitment to nurture your students as active citizens.

And although you will do so in different and exciting ways,

I believe we can work together for a national Wales-wide ‘student as citizen’ offer and recognition.

Wherever you are studying,

Wherever you are from,

Whatever your subject,

Wales guarantees you the:

Experiences, knowledge and skills,

That will help you be an engaged and responsible citizen.

Contributing locally,

Nurturing wellbeing and resilience,

Employability and entrepreneurial skills,

Drawing strength from diverse communities,

And being a true citizen of Wales and the world.

This must be part of the new social contract between students, universities and the nation.

It can be personalised and local, of course, but it must also be a national offer and guarantee.

I would like to put on record, my welcome for the recent sector-wide work on student mental health.

Bringing together nus Wales, universities Wales, Colegau Cymru and mental health organisations.

Without our health, mental and physical, we cannot begin to achieve our personal goals for learning and development.

Student mental health has long been a priority for government, but this has been acutely highlighted by the recent report from UCAS that mental health declarations from higher education applicants have increased 450% over the last ten years.

I can also confirm that I’m exploring how learner wellbeing can be an ongoing condition of provider registration with the new commission.

The commission will develop the detail but I expect this to include safety from harassment and a recognition of the role universities play in suicide safer campuses.

The commission will also be responsible for signing-off outcome agreements with colleges and universities.

I want us to be in a position where those institutions, reflecting the lifelong learning duty in the bill, are in the habit of disseminating their work more widely, and renew their commitment to lifelong learning.

Whether that is online, taster courses, public lectures and seminars, working with local employers and enterprises – we need to see wider and deeper engagement.

This needs to be genuine empowerment, democratic engagement and skills development. Student as citizen. Citizen as student.

Areas such as digital innovation and health and social care urgently need clearer progression routes for people who are leaving formal education and seeking opportunities to retrain.

I expect to see this overarching commitment as a key priority within those outcome agreements in the future.

And we have seen part time participation rise, supported by our progressive and unique student finance reforms– and in stark contrast to England.

I want to recognise the OU’s contribution to this, and the significant increase in students – particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds – studying with the OU.

However we must guard against part-time learning and distance learning meaning one and the same.

The rest of the sector cannot put part-time learning and lifelong learning pathways in the ‘too difficult box’.

The time is now to think creatively about this.

Stronger pathways from – and stronger relationships of all types with - further education colleges;

Thinking afresh about portfolio and local and regional skills needs;

And not limiting widening participation work to 16-18 year olds – think about the local workforce and communities.

Of course, working with schools and colleges to support our most disadvantaged learners remains a priority.

And we will always support your work in extending the reach of higher education opportunity. We are making a change to legislation to enable Welsh government to share free school meal data with UCAS, including providing better data for universities on Welsh learners who are, or have previously been, eligible for free school meals.

We aim to enable this to happen for clearing and confirmation this year and then every year in future.

I have also has asked local authorities and further education colleges to come together to ensure that young people most in need are receiving bespoke personalised support to enable them to transition to their next steps. I want to see this leading to an even more diverse Welsh student population. Diverse in terms of background, diverse in time of ethnicity.

Diverse student communities are crucial to citizenship, enquiry and the strength of our institutions.

And we can be proud that we support those students with the most progressive funding offer in the UK.

Across the border, they are contemplating regressive changes to post-graduate repayment conditions as well as entry to universities.

And whilst the mechanisms available to us to depart from this is more limited than any of us would want, we are exploring with the UK government a basis on which we can have the practical delivery powers to match our devolved powers. But I am steadfast in my commitment to supporting all students, of all ages, across all modes with funding support when they most need it.

It’s progressive, it widens access, it opens up learning, and it’s quite simply the right thing to do.

Economic impact

Now, coming onto my third theme of responsibility and contribution to place.

And over the last two centuries, the size and shape of the sector has evolved.

That has been a good thing.

It has delivered progress.

Progress for individuals,

For scholarship,

For communities and for the country.

I know that structures and alliances will continue to evolve, meeting student, academic, cultural and economic aspirations.

However, it is difficult to foresee a future where a new university might emerge.

But that cannot mean that those communities, towns and counties without a campus university miss out on all the associated benefits.

The geography of our social and industrial history should not prevent

Abertillery, Ammanford or Amlwch

Being served by a university that is of, and for, them.

If we were to take a map of Wales with the current footprint of each university’s sense of its own geographic ambit marked upon it, I fear we would see large swathes of the country without any [coverage] and other parts served by multiple institutions.

As university leaders, I am asking you to look, not into the mirror but outwards into your communities and regions.

To use Raymond Williams’s phrase, I worry that there is a “crisis of understanding”.

Are you doing enough to ensure the benefits of a university is real and understood in your communities and regions?

I know there has been great strides in how you work institutionally and collectively on civic mission, and I applaud that.

But how about your social and economic contract with public and place beyond your immediate surroundings?

Great work is happening, and I am well aware of the £5 billion-plus of output you generate annually.

As we emerge from the pandemic, local businesses, entrepreneurs and public services need to feel that difference that you can make, right across the nation.

You are rightly proud that you have led the way on paying the real living wage.

I want to see that same pride for local and regional procurement, physical presence and innovation.

And as you do more, you have my permission to shout it from the rooftops.

Make it visible, make it real, make it understood.

I know that many of you do good work in helping support graduates to remain in the local area.

Many of you have been proactive in using the post-graduate student grant offer to retain, or bring home, welsh students.

That delivers research, economic and cultural benefits.

But we do need to see more of this.

And government is there to work with you, employers, local authorities and others to meet this challenge head on.

I have limited time today, but I also want you to think about the grand challenges as first starting at home.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s view of universal human rights that they begin in small places close to home can equally be applied to other assets and advantages as well.

We can all be proud of the excellent impact delivered by Welsh universities’ research.

The results of the ref makes this clear.

Individually and through the national innovation network I want to see you capitalise on your diverse strengths.

Working with local authorities, public services and industry, we can keep doing more on health outcomes, inequalities, sustainability and higher educational standards.

A recent survey of public attitudes to universities in England by the upp foundation and higher education policy institute showed that almost four in ten of those living in small towns, and over a quarter of these living in villages say universities are unimportant to their area.

Although this was an English survey, it highlights the challenge for you here to engage more, and better, right across your regions.

And if you think of the map I mentioned earlier, I do wonder what the results of a similar survey in Wales would be… and I want you to be asking yourselves the same question…

I shall return to this theme in future conversations.


Lastly I want to set these themes in a global context. Being of and for place doesn’t mean being parochial, as Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous expression shows us

Internationalism is key to the success of our universities and host communities.

The £65m investment in Taith ensures that our learners and staff will have opportunities to spend time abroad as part of their studies and benefit from international approaches, culture, and diversity.

I was delighted to see that all our campus-based universities have applied for the first round of Taith. It is great that everyone is with us on the journey.

Taith also fosters the crucial benefits that diverse international communities bring to our campuses and communities.

Its support for reciprocity – partnerships with travel both inward and outward – makes it clear that Wales is committed to working with international partners on the basis of mutual respect, and has been praised in Europe and across the world.

Projects such as global Wales – to which we have recently committed up to £10.28m over the next four academic years – will help to further ensure that our international reputation grows, and that more students from overseas will choose to study here as a result. 

In leading the way internationally, our universities are also helping to create opportunities for learners and staff across our whole education sector.

Programmes such as Taith and global Wales will provide more opportunities for international cross-sector collaboration than ever before.

Building on that, the commission will have a new role in promoting a global outlook, and I am excited to see the benefits international education brings to Wales grow in the coming years.


To conclude colleagues,

Across my three themes – strengths and differences, students as citizens, and people and places,

We must renew the social contract between higher education and communities, citizens and the country.

We are building from strong foundations, a proud history and an immense contribution during the pandemic.

But we need a renewed commitment for the future.

A commitment ‘for Wales’;

For democratic debate and engagement;

For national wellbeing and prosperity; and

For lifelong learning, online, in the community and in the classroom.

As the new steward for tertiary education, the commission will support and nurture all universities with this renewed social purpose.

It is a huge but necessary responsibility.

And I know you share my confidence that together we can achieve this.

Higher education in and for Wales is at its strongest when it is:



Enterprising, and


Now is the time to build on those strengths as we start a new century of higher education for Wales.