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Wales is only UK nation to prioritise spending on further education

29 May 2014 | last updated: 10 December 2015

A report from UCU has highlighted the effect that devolution is having on outcomes for post-compulsory education in Wales compared to the rest of the UK.

It shows that Wales is the only nation in the UK where a greater proportion of the education budget is spent on further education (FE) than on higher education (HE). Wales spends around 30% more on FE than it does on HE, a difference of around £180 million.

The report, launched today at the union's annual Congress, includes an analysis from HM Treasury of relative spending on further and higher education by each of the devolved nations. It also includes information about qualification levels, fee arrangements and performance on widening participation measures. Other findings in the report include:

  • Wales reports the highest proportion of the population (24.7%) with a qualification at GCSE A-C or equivalent
  • Wales also has the highest overall percentage (48.5%) of people with either a level 2 or level 3 qualification (UK average= 45.9%), both in the overall working age population and in the youngest cohort beyond normal university leaving age (25-29)
  • those aged 25-29 are 30% less likely to have an HE sub-degree qualification than the working age population; this is the biggest decline of all four nations
  • encouragingly, though, those aged 25-29 in Wales are 45% more likely to have a first degree or higher than the working age population as a whole
  • Wales's record on widening participation is roughly in line with the UK average

In response to the report's findings, UCU has devised a series of questions which will act as a basic test for new initiatives in different parts of the UK. The union will be using these 'six tests'* as a framework for assessing whether emerging policies are of benefit to the post-compulsory sector.

The questions look at whether proposals are fair for all students regardless of their age and circumstances; able to attract and retain strong and stable staff bodies; and able to ensure a system which offers the broadest possible choice of courses.

UCU Wales Official, Margaret Phelan, said: 'In Wales, we can clearly see the result of policies which have prioritised spending on further education. However, if Wales is to remain competitive within the UK it is important that we learn from the successes and failures of policies in other home nations. The 'six tests' allow us to thoroughly examine emerging policy initiatives, holding policy-makers to account and ensuring that proposals benefit the sector as a whole.'


*The 'six tests' to be applied to any policy/funding initiative are as follows:

  • Will the proposal make it easier for people to reach their full potential?
  • Will the proposal increase our academic capacity and research base?
  • Will the proposal make the UK a more attractive place for academic staff to work?
  • Will the proposal make it less costly for individuals to study, whether young or old?
  • Will the proposal broaden the range of subjects available for study?
  • Will the proposal lead to higher quality and reduced fragmentation in the sector?

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