Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People, and Education Committee

09/12/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

James Evans AS
Jayne Bryant AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates AS
Laura Anne Jones AS
Mike Hedges AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Buffy Williams
Substitute for Buffy Williams
Sioned Williams AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Siân Gwenllian
Substitute for Siân Gwenllian

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alastair Delaney Cyfarwyddwr Gweithrediadau a Dirprwy Brif Weithredwr, Asiantaeth Sicrhau Ansawdd ar gyfer Addysg Uwch
Director of Operations & Deputy Chief Executive, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
Arwyn Watkins Rheolwr Gyfarwyddwr Cwmni Hyfforddiant Cambrian ac Aelod o’r Bwrdd, Ffederasiwn Hyfforddiant Cenedlaethol Cymru
Managing Director of Cambrian Training Company and Board Member, National Training Federation for Wales
David Gale Rheolwr Sicrwydd Ansawdd, Cymru, Asiantaeth Sicrhau Ansawdd ar gyfer Addysg Uwch
Quality Assurance Manager, Wales, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
David Notley Cyd-Gadeirydd, Cyngor Cynghorol Cymru ar Arloesi
Co-Chair, The Innovation Advisory Council for Wales
Dr John Graystone Cadeirydd, Addysg Oedolion Cymru
Chair. Adult Learning Wales
Jackie Gapper Cyfarwyddwr Cynorthwyol, Estyn
Assistant Director, Estyn
James Harrison Prif Swyddog Polisi, Cenhedloedd ac Ewrop, Asiantaeth Sicrhau Ansawdd ar gyfer Addysg Uwch
Lead Policy Officer, Nations and Europe, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
Jamie Insole Swyddog Polisi, Undeb Prifysgolion a Cholegau
Policy Officer, University and College Union
Jassa Scott Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Jeff Protheroe Cyfarwyddwr Gweithrediadau, Ffederasiwn Hyfforddiant Cenedlaethol Cymru
Director of Operations, National Training Federation for Wales
Kathryn Robson Prif Weithredwr, Addysg Oedolion Cymru
Chief Executive, Adult Learning Wales
Lynne Hackett Trefnydd Rhanbarthol, Arweinydd Addysg Bellach ac Uwch, Unsain Cymru
Regional Organiser, Lead for Further and Higher Education, Unison Wales
Mary van den Heuvel Uwch Swyddog Polisi, Undeb Addysg Cenedlaethol Cymru
Senior Policy Officer, National Education Union Cymru
Neil Butler Swyddogol Cenedlaethol (Cymru), NASUWT
National Official (Wales), NASUWT
Yr Athro Helen Fulton Is-lywydd y Dyniaethau, y Celfyddydau a'r Gwyddorau Cymdeithasol, Cymdeithas Ddysgedig Cymru
Vice President for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, The Learned Society of Wales
Yr Athro Hywel Thomas Llywydd, Cymdeithas Ddysgedig Cymru
President, The Learned Society of Wales
Rebecca Williams Dirprwy Ysgrifennydd Cyffredinol, Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru
Deputy General Secretary, Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Phil Boshier Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Tom Lewis-White Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:15.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:15.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.

Welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee today.

I'd like to welcome Members to this meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv with all participants joining via video-conference. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Apologies have been received from Buffy Williams MS, and I'd like to welcome Mike Hedges, who is substituting this morning for Buffy for items 1 to 3. Welcome. Croeso, Mike. We've also received apologies for this morning from Ken Skates. As agreed, Sioned Williams MS will be substituting for Siân Gwenllian for this meeting. Are there any declarations of interests from Members? Sioned.

Mae fy ngŵr yn gyflogedig gan Brifysgol Abertawe. Mae e hefyd yn aelod o'r Undeb Prifysgol a Choleg, ac mae e'n gymrawd o Gymdeithas Ddysgedig Cymru.

My husband is employed by Swansea University. He is also a Member of the University and College Union and he is a fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

2. Bil Addysg Drydyddol ac Ymchwil (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 7
2. Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill - evidence session 7

I'd like to welcome our witnesses this morning. We'll move straight onto this item, which is the tertiary education and research Bill. It's our seventh evidence session. Our witnesses are Jeff Protheroe, director of operations, National Training Federation Wales, Arwyn Watkins, managing director, Cambrian Training company and National Training Federation Wales board member, Kathryn Robson, chief executive of Adult Learning Wales, and John Graystone, chair of Adult Learning Wales. You're very welcome this morning. Just to say as well, and to clarify for order, unless questions are directed to a specific organisation, I will seek responses first of all from National Training Federation Wales, and then followed by Adult Learning Wales.

I'll start the questions this morning. To what extent do you believe that legislation is necessary to achieve the policy objectives in this Bill that it's intended to work towards and are those policy objectives clear to you? National Training Federation Wales.

Good morning, Chair. Good morning, committee Members. Bore da, bawb. From an NTFW members' perspective, I think it's fair to say that we are unsure what the establishment of the commission is looking to address. In terms of the policy objectives stated by the Minister, most notably responding to change, I guess you have to put that in the context of discussions around the establishment of the commission happening way before the advent of COVID, and, dare I say it, Brexit. So, one of the key policy objectives of responding to change is happening now. The post-16 setup, particularly the apprenticeship space, is constantly changing, responding to economic change. The other policy objective stated by the Minister is around allowing the sector to act nimbly, allowing the sector to be collaborative and taking a strategic coherent approach. Although we cautiously welcome the Bill and the establishment of the commission, there's clearly quite a lot of detail that needs to be worked through. But to answer your question specifically, we do not feel that a legislative process needs to be established in order to meet those policy objectives.

Bore da. Good morning, everybody. Thank you, Chair. From our perspective, we are broadly in support of the legislation. We do feel that there is a need for a new structure. In relation to the further education sector and the adult community aspect of the FE sector, there are some lines of responsibility that are unclear, and we feel there are too many elements of competition. This legislation, we feel, does provide the opportunity to resolve some problems that have been around for a very long time in relation to duplication of provision, overlapping and aspects of competition. This also gives an opportunity to share responsibilities between Welsh Government, local government, local authorities, school sixth forms, FE, higher education and adult community learning. But we do feel that there needs to be much, much greater emphasis on the definition of adult community learning, reference to its distinct responsibilities for communities, and that needs to be under one, national strategic body. I know we're potentially coming on to this later on, but all in all we are in support of it because of the opportunities that it does offer to promote collaboration and to support lifelong learning. Diolch.

09:20

Thank you, Kathryn. Concerns have been raised regarding the information-sharing provisions in the Bill. Do you think that they might inhibit information-sharing with the commission, particularly for private apprenticeship providers? Arwyn.

There's nothing within the Bill that concerns us in terms of our network. We operate in a very open and transparent information-sharing process currently, and there's nothing in this Bill that concerns us in terms of information sharing, to be honest, Chair.

Yes, thank you, Chair. Just quickly on the previous question, just to say that I echo what Kathryn said, but also it enables planning across the whole post-16 sector, which we haven't had before. I think that's going to be an advantage in the longer term.

I think, in terms of data and the sharing of data, and so on, there is public money involved, and I think we would always err on the side of openness and transparency. So, we don't have concerns, but data of course needs to be proportionate and collected for a clear purpose, not just for the sake of it. So, we don't have any concerns about the sensitivities, as long as certain rules are followed in that respect.

While I've got the conch, Jayne, in case this doesn't come up, one thing we are a bit concerned about is that the word 'community' doesn't appear at all in the legislation, other than in defining, I think, a maintained school. In fact, in the definition of tertiary education, which is in Part 7, paragraph 139, it only refers to higher education, further education or training. It doesn't mention adult community learning at all, and lots of the Bill talks about tertiary education. So, at the moment, as it's written, we're excluded, whereas in the explanatory memorandum it does define tertiary education including ACL. So, I just wanted to draw that to the committee's attention, because it's caused us a bit of concern, but it may just be a drafting point to point out.

Thank you, John. We might well come back to that in a moment as well. Can you tell us about any concerns you've got regarding the timings and process of physically establishing the commission and setting up all the regulatory machinery? Arwyn.

Chair, and committee, from our perspective, I know a question's already been asked to the Minister regarding the current apprenticeship framework agreement and the impact on this agreement with the commission. It would be useful to understand in much more detail the particular detail of the proposed staged approach of the various post-16 strands coming under the commission. Is the four plus one, plus one framework agreement, still extant, or is the expectation that apprenticeships will move to the commission in 2025? We're in year 1 of a brand new framework agreement, and the current situation in terms of the labour market and apprenticeship stuff is quite challenging currently. In year 1 of a framework, I think we'd want some more clarity in terms of where the commission contract holders are in that brand-new framework agreement, how we fit in with the commission, and at what time, and how do our existing commissions stand, going forward. 

09:25

I think we support now 1 April 2023, but it won't all be sorted by then because you've got all these systems to be put in place, key people to be appointed, different funding mechanisms to sort out. They can be sorted out over time, and it may take two, three, four years before that actually takes place. Having been involved in two mergers in the organisation I chair, I know things take much longer than you think. We're a relatively small organisation; it took us at least two years before we actually merged, then another two years after that to bed things down. So, it's going to take a long period of time for the commission actually to bed down, but rather than keep postponing the date, I think let's go for it—it gives a focus, it gives a sense of direction, and once it's sets up, then it can start developing the systems and getting things in place. It won't sort everything out by day one.

Thanks, John. To what extent do you believe that outcome agreements will bring about improvements and benefit? Jeff. 

Thank you, Chair. In our consultation responses, the NTFW membership had been very supportive of outcome agreements, purely because it's the way that apprenticeships currently operate within Wales insomuch that they are performance commitments, and the providers are rightly held to account in delivering performance. And, as John has said, it is public money. What I guess is disappointing—and I know outcome agreements as a concept have been minimised in the Bill, but they're quite there in terms of the explanatory memorandum—is that it appears to us that outcome agreements will only apply to FE, apprenticeships and training. So, it doesn't apply to higher education. And I guess this reinforces the point that I think the Minister made when you scrutinised him around there being consistency and inconsistency in the approach. So, clearly, one of the aims of the commission and establishing the commission is to respond to economic demand, particularly on a regional basis, and we think it would be right that all providers would be bound by outcome agreements and respond to demand, wherever that may come from. So, we see it is an absolute benefit.      

Yes, I think I would agree with Jeff, actually, that outcome agreements should cover the whole post-16 sector, not for specific ones. There are a lot of examples of good practice. The Scottish Funding Council, for example, which funds FE and HE—I'm not sure about work-based learning—has outcome agreements covering the whole of the FE and HE sectors, and they cover things like widening access, delivering high-quality support for learners, student engagement. So, those outcome agreements can be very positive. Negative ones, though, are things like we have in England in HE, where universities are judged on how successful their graduates are in terms of earning income. So, if you produce lots of bankers and lawyers, you're marked higher than someone who produces social workers and teachers. So, it depends on what the outcome agreements are, and I think they need to be transparent and open, and reflect the actual specific mission and aims of an organisation. So, Adult Learning Wales/Addysg Oedolion Cymru would have a very different set of objectives to, say, an FE college or work-based learning provider in terms of what we offer, and we need to be measured against that in our outcome agreements. Diolch.

Just adding to what John's already said, there is a danger that outcomes are linked to funding and, as such, outcomes could be too narrow and too prescriptive. Outcomes are often linked to qualifications, and that is extremely important, clearly. But, when it comes to the adult community learning sector, much of what we do is strongly linked to active citizenship, improving health and well-being, addressing loneliness and isolation, community cohesion, family learning. It's important to note, when it comes to outcomes, how much ACL has a significant positive impact on other services, such as the criminal justice system, health and social services, youth work and advocacy. 

Thank you. Thank you, all. This is just to Adult Learning Wales, so for John and Kathryn. Sorry, Arwyn, did you want to come in briefly on that? 

Please, if I could. I suppose we can't underestimate the significant importance that outcome agreements can make to the economy here in Wales, in terms of actually driving behaviour to follow both national and regional priorities. And that's why, if we are trying to secure parity of esteem across the piece, like John and Jeff have already said, it's extremely important that any outcome agreements are across the whole piece and not just for specific sectors.

09:30

Thank you, Arwyn. So, this is just to Adult Learning Wales, really: you've asked for clarity about Welsh Government plans to establish a national strategic body to oversee community-based adult learning. Can you talk us through your concerns and whether the Bill needs amending to address those? Kathryn.

Yes, it does, because there's no reference to it at all at the moment, and, in her written statement of 12 July 2019, the then Minister for Education did make it very clear that the arrangements around the national body would sit very firmly under the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research. There doesn't appear to be any reference to that at the moment, as well as sitting under, to be funded, monitored, and quality assured by CTER. So, we do need to understand where the Bill stands on that particular point, and whereas we see ourselves very firmly in the frame to potentially take up the role of the national body, we would clearly work and collaborate and support any processes and any decision making over the requirements to put in place a national body. But I think it's important to note that that body is very much needed, because there is a danger that ACL will be lost in the whole adult learning agenda. Adult learning extends to FE, HE, higher apprenticeships, apprenticeships, work-based learning, in-work learning, the voluntary sector. It's such a wide, wide area, and I think, given the complexities, the challenges, but also the opportunities associated with community provision, it does need to be addressed and supported to ensure that it's not lost in the Bill.

I'd just agree entirely. I think Kathryn has expressed it all very clearly. I just want to support what she said.

Thanks, John. And this question is for Jeff and Arwyn. The Bill doesn't directly address establishing any structures or systems for creating and reviewing apprenticeship frameworks. You've touched on this. To what extent might this hinder the development of a more responsive apprenticeship system? Jeff.

In terms of what we're seeing in the Bill now, particularly with regard to apprenticeships, it's nothing new to what is already going on. I guess there is a concern that the NTFW membership has—as it's proposed currently, Welsh Ministers will maintain strategic stewardship of apprenticeship, and the commission will undertake the day-to-day operations. As it currently stands, all of those functions are held by Welsh Government, which clearly makes it more simplistic for that apprenticeship programme to meet and respond to the needs of employers. So, what we're seeing in the Bill and in the explanatory memorandum currently is probably going to make—and again to paraphrase the Minister—the apprenticeship provision far more clunky. And what is absolutely needed, if we are to move forward with the apprenticeship programme in Wales, is for it to be far more responsive, far more fleet of foot, and, dare I say, there needs to be additional resource into that infrastructure to make it meet the needs of Welsh Ministers.

Thank you, Jeff. Moving on to some questions now from Mike Hedges. Mike.

Diolch. I want to talk about collaboration, but, before I do that, can I just thank—? I can't remember who made the statement about the difficulty of mergers. That is incredibly helpful, to me at least, because I keep on talking to people in the Senedd who think mergers are straightforward. But to what extent do you believe requiring providers to get consent from the commission to pass on apprenticeship funding to third parties will be a barrier to collaboration, particularly considering the network of subcontractors? Is this going to add another stage and make life more difficult?

09:35

I would absolutely agree with Mike. What we need within the apprenticeship programme specifically is that ability to respond to immediate national, regional and, dare I say, local needs. And the way that the current apprenticeship network is commissioned is on the basis of lead providers who have a great deal of responsibility that they need to take forward for Welsh Government in terms of quality and meeting Welsh Ministers' needs. And to have a process introduced that would then need lead providers to seek consent in what is potentially going to be an under-resourced system is just going to be a barrier that is not needed. It's not there currently and there is no need to introduce it in any future apprenticeship programme.

Can I just thank you for that answer? The Bill provides for different powers, duties, conditions and different funding mechanisms for different types of provision. To what extent does this impact on the aim of creating one post-16 system?

Mike, I think that's the biggest challenge, to be honest. If we are talking about a single system for Wales, then there needs to be a much more singular approach in terms of how that's commissioned, how it's delivered and how it's funded. And, to have a hierarchical approach within a post-16 system will do absolutely nothing for parity of esteem. We will never break this threshold at all in terms of that. It's going to take some extremely strong leadership within the commission to see fairness across the whole piece, to be honest. 

As I said before, it's a very complex process. You have different sectors at the moment funded in different ways, either through Welsh Government or through the Student Loans Company or through competitive bidding, et cetera, et cetera. To try and bring all those together into one single system I think is going to be a huge task.

If you look at the Scottish Funding Council, which, again, I mentioned earlier on, funds FE and HE, what they do is they have some separate funding for FE and some separate funding for HE, but also some common funding for both. And on their website, they have reds and blues and so on to distinguish that [correction: they have red and blue symbols to distinguish funding streams]. I think what the commission will have to do is that, when it first starts off, things will be the same, [correction: When the commission is first set up, funding systems will remain the same] but, gradually, there will be some elements of common funding. I notice, for example, the Scottish Funding Council is giving common funding for period products, for example, covering FE and HE, exactly the same criteria used; we can't do that at the moment in Wales. So, I think we will move very gradually towards a common system, but we may never get there [correction: towards a more common system, but we may never have a completely common approach.] But there will be more commonality than there is now, Mike, so I think that will be an advantage. But I think to have a common system covering everything would be a real challenge. And as Arwyn points out, we're never going to have complete parity of esteem, but we'll be much closer to it than we are now.

One of the things that all politicians and the Government talk about is having more higher level apprenticeships, level 4 and 5 apprenticeships, and the benefit of that. So, to what extent could the Bill as currently drafted help or hinder delivering these higher level apprenticeships?

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Mike. I know it's been stated by other witnesses that the level 4 and level 5 arena in terms of the demarcation between further education in its wider sense, including apprenticeship delivery, and HE is an area of possible duplication. I guess one thing—and again, it's in our response to the committee—where it is unsure to us, really, is particularly in that space of 19 plus, and we know that Welsh Ministers have to provide proper facilities for 16 to 19 and reasonable facilities for 19 plus. In the Bill, it's stated alongside those conditions of funding for levels 1, 2 and 3. Now, generally, individuals undertaking higher apprenticeships are over the age of 19—a general statement, I know. So, to have that level of detail in the Bill, which ultimately will make it into legislation, we feel is clearly un-useful. What we would wish to see, and again it will come with further information on Welsh Ministers' regulations, is clarity on what will an eligible person be. But, there's nothing in the Bill, if I'm honest, Mike, that would give us a positive or a negative view of how it would impact on the delivery of higher level skills.

09:40

Yes. I don't have the exact figures with me, but I'm pretty sure that we can respond prior to the end of this with the exact number of higher apprenticeships level 4 and 5 that the current network are currently delivering. That's why I find it difficult to understand what difference this is going to make, over and above the levels of level 4 and 5 that the network are commissioned to currently deliver. There's been a significant shift in the last 10 years in terms of the higher level qualifications, and rightly so. As Jeff says, invariably, they are, in most cases, for over 19 year olds, but they are being delivered consistently and of high quality.

Thank you, Arwyn, and we'd be very grateful to see those numbers as well, so look forward to receiving those from you. John or Kathryn? Nothing to add. Mike.

Finally, to Adult Learning Wales, you state in your paper you want greater clarity on the Bill's intention with regard to the balance of adult learning aimed at obtaining qualifications and more informal or non-accredited learning. I speak as someone who has experience of this from my working life, but some of this informal or non-accredited learning can lead on, and often does lead on, to formal qualifications. Can you talk us through the point that you are raising and if you feel we can make recommendations in this regard? If I can just finish, the experience I've got is that people who come in to do non-qualification areas eventually realise that they want to gain qualifications, and it really is a route through. I know that some of the voluntary sector saw the cutbacks in the provision of the funding for adult learning without qualifications as causing problems.

At present, 80 per cent of our provision is accredited and much of it is qualification based, so we have definitely shifted as an organisation, but the only way we've been able to achieve that really is to ensure that we have got courses in place—these are the engagement activities, the informal routes into learning. And you're absolutely right, Mike, it leads to progression. It's a far more successful way of supporting adults who are potentially in a position where they're entering or re-entering education perhaps for the second, third or fourth time due to experiences that have put them off in the past, and those experiences range considerably. So, coming back to the—I think it's around the eligibility clauses around over 19s that we had a concern, because it seemed to be connected to qualification outcomes, and I think there is very much a place for this. Essentially, those non-accredited activities are really an essential part of getting those hardest to reach— furthest from education, employment and training—back into learning. When they're used effectively and as part of a planned progression pathway, they really are successful. So, we would wholly support the opportunity to have reference to that in the Bill, most definitely.

Thank you. Can I just come back on that? There used to be adult basic skills, which didn't have qualifications, which got adults up to a level of ability to do things. Is that still in existence? And, if not, would you like it?

Yes, it is in existence. We do work to a level 2 qualification in adult basic education primarily, but we do have provision in place that supports that entry into that particular style of learning. We're doing a lot of work with higher education institutes, because we are front-loading activity prior to students taking on a degree scheme, to get them up to the equivalent of a GCSE in maths and English. So, it's a very, very important aspect, to try and support adults back into higher education as well.

09:45

Could I confirm what Kathryn said, but also, in the Bill, there's a statement about 'proper facilities' for 16-19 learners, which is a standard phrase, as opposed to 'reasonable facilities' for 19-plus learners. But, in the Bill this time, there's been added proper facilities for those aged over 19 for 'eligible persons'. Now, I don't want to have a debate about the difference between 'reasonable' and 'proper', but all I would say is that 'proper' is a much stronger statement than 'reasonable'. And by insertion of that new clause 91, proper facilities for those aged over 19 for eligible persons, it does open the door for adult learners on maybe non-accredited courses to be defined in that way and to be funded.

And I should say, I've got experience of this in the past, when cuts were being made to the education budget. Civil servants would say, 'We have to cut adult learning because of the legislation', and they would follow that legislation. I think now that that wording does actually help. I would have liked to have seen 'proper facilities' for all of those over 19 [correction: for all those over 19 included in the Bill], but obviously we haven't gone that far. So, I think it's very important, to echo what Kathryn said, and what Mike has been saying, about supporting those returning to learning and wanting to progress, but from [correction: but often from] a very low base. And we're back to transforming lives, basically—I think that's what we're saying. Thank you. Diolch.

Thank you, Chair. And I appreciate, Mike, that that was a question directed to Adult Learning Wales, and a very valid response. But I just think it's an ideal opportunity for us then to put across another point from the NTFW membership, which links to non-formal, informal learning, links to pathways of progressions, and links to those, as Kathryn said, who are furthest away from the job market and need the greatest support. We have been talking consistently as a network around the establishment of the commission and the CTER agenda, and we cannot believe why Welsh Government-funded employability programmes—particularly now Jobs Growth Wales+, learners who need the most support, need the greatest level of oversight and quality of provision, and, rightly so, providers held to account for that—do not make it within the remit of the commission. Now, there may well be very valid reasons, but, to date, nobody has been able to present a rationale why those individuals furthest from the job market, needing the greatest level of support, have no protection or oversight from the commission. So, it is something I would really urge the committee to press Welsh Ministers on.

Thank you, Jeff. Thank you, Mike. Moving on to questions now from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

Bore da. Mae gen i gwpwl o gwestiynau yn ymwneud â phwerau Gweinidogion Cymru a phwerau'r comisiwn a'r berthynas rhyngddyn nhw. Mae Cyngor Cyllido Addysg Uwch Cymru wedi dweud wrthym ni:

Good morning. I have a couple of questions relating to the powers of Welsh Ministers and the powers of the commission and the relationship between them. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales have told us that:

'There is an underlying theme in the legislation that Welsh Government is reluctant to embrace the concept of an arm's-length body.'

So, i ba raddau ydych chi'n fodlon bod y comisiwn, fel y mae wedi cael ei ddisgrifio yn y Bil, yn gorff hyd braich?

So, to what extent are you satisfied that the commission, as has been described in the Bill, is an arm's-length one?

Bore da, Sioned. Diolch. I guess the best way to describe this really is that it is an arm's-length body, but Welsh Government have a very tight grip on the hand, and understandably—there's £0.5 billion-worth of funding at risk here, and, as the Minister has said, second only to the NHS in Wales, and there needs to be oversight of that. In our consultation responses previously, we've said that it should be an arm's-length body and it should be accountable to the Welsh Parliament. And I think that would make it truly arm's length.

There are two ways to look at this now, aren't there? Maybe it doesn't go far enough, maybe the Bill doesn't go far enough to really give the commission the tools and the power and the autonomy to really deal with the policy objectives. We all know, and it's fairly apparent in the Bill, that the commission will consult with all stakeholders, pull together a strategic plan, and we know the Welsh Ministers may reject that out of hand. So, in that respect, it is not truly an arm's-length body, but I think the Bill provides a basis for it to be a really effective, powerful, accountable arm's-length body.

09:50

Yes. Right at the very beginning, I was waving my hand, because I need to declare that I'm a member of HEFCW council and I'm also a governor of an FE college, but I'm here today, obviously, as chair of Addysg Oedolion Cymru. But, just to say, in respect of the arm's length, that, at the moment, what happens is that HEFCW gets a remit letter [correction: an annual remit letter] and then it follows that remit and that works pretty well, and then there are regular discussions between the Welsh Government and HEFCW officials and with the council. And I think, with the new commission, that model seems to me to be the way to go. It [correction: The Bill] talks about preparing a statement of priorities and the commission preparing a plan, but I was a bit nervous about the Welsh Government actually interfering with the plan; I think that's really up to the commission to do [correction: the plan. The commission needs to be trusted to get on with its important role.] So, I'm slightly anxious [correction: nervous] that there may be some tension between the two, and I personally would err towards a body that was at arm's length [correction: truly at arm's length], and I think the idea of consent and so on needs to be watered down. 

That said, I do recognise the democratic accountability of the Minister and, as has been pointed out, the huge sums of public money involved. And obviously, Welsh Ministers need to be able to have a grip of that. But I think how we've got it at the moment works pretty well and I don't see why there needs to be radical change in that sort of relationship.

Ie. Diolch. Wel, mae'r cwestiwn nesaf, mewn ffordd, yn gysylltiedig, achos mae rhai rhanddeiliaid wedi dweud wrthym ni eu bod nhw'n poeni y bydd gan Weinidogion Cymru ormod o ran weithredol yn y comisiwn, hynny yw, nid jest o ran gosod cyfeiriad y polisi ond yn weithredol felly—yn medru ymyrryd yn weithrediadau'r comisiwn—ac y gallai'r Bil rhoi pwerau iddyn nhw wneud hynny. I ba raddau mae hyn yn peri pryder i chi?

Yes. Thank you very much. Well, the next question, in a way, is related to that, because some stakeholders have told us that they are concerned that Welsh Ministers will have too much of a role in the operational matters of the commission, so not just in terms of setting the policy direction, but in operational matters—they'll be able to intervene in the operation of the commission—and that the Bill could give them powers to do just that. So, to what extent is this a concern for you?

Absolutely, I think it's a concern. It's one of those things, isn't it? If it's not set up with enough control measures or enough parameters, then clearly it's not been set up effectively in the beginning. If I can give an example of where there is a concern, I guess, for our membership, I mentioned earlier the fact that Welsh Ministers will maintain strategic stewardship of the apprenticeship programme, but the day-to-day operation of the apprenticeship programme will lie with the commission. Now, on a very practical level, if you look at the Bill, Welsh Ministers could decide to withdraw certain apprenticeship frameworks. Now, if the commission, as outlined in the guidance documents, is to be a strategic body, then, ultimately, that power should lie within the commission. So, we have the ability to move from what the Minister described as a clunky apprenticeship programme to a more clunky apprenticeship programme, because you've got unclear lines of demarcation and the potential for the commission to say one thing and Welsh Ministers to decide another thing, which clearly is not beneficial for anyone.

Yes, just to reiterate what I said before really, Ministers should not get involved in operational matters. That's not their job. If you set up a commission, then you give them [correction: you set out their] responsibilities, you give them a clear remit, you give them a statement of priorities, you have a strategic plan and you leave them to get on with it. And it's not helpful and I'm sure that the Minister wouldn't want to get involved in day-to-day matters. 

The only issue, I would say, is that there should be no surprises. So, there needs to be an information flow back to Welsh Ministers in case events occur. But I think, as I said, the current arrangements work pretty well with HEFCW, and I don't see any reason why there needs to be any radical change in that sort of relationship with the new commission when it's set up.

Thank you, Sioned. May we have some questions now from James Evans?

09:55

Thank you very much, Chair, and it's lovely to see some familiar faces. Arwyn, good to see you. I want to ask about lifelong learning. So, to Adult Learning Wales: you state in your paper that you were well placed to help inform the regulations around entitlement to learning over the age of 19, but it does appear that Welsh Government will be basing these regulations on a piece of work by the Wales Centre for Public Policy. So, what’s your view on this approach, and were you involved in that piece of work? Kathryn.

Thank you for your question, James. Yes, we were, sort of indirectly. We were very fortunate that our chair, Dr John Graystone, was invited to be part of the team of experts to contribute to that debate, and I know he would have represented the views of this organisation, but the broader ACL sector as well.

I think, in terms of the report on lifelong learning, I think as long as it covers really important points, such as how lifelong learning is understood and defined; rights and entitlements of those wanting to access lifelong learning; obviously the eligibility criteria; what the offer looks like—. The Government’s arrangements are really important as well, and there needs to be a really strong degree of collaboration and partnership within that. If the report makes reference to having a much greater element of flexibility, that would be a really strong aspect. For lifelong learning to work well, it shouldn’t be prescribed to traditional methods of teaching that are fixed term times, fixed day-time activity. We all know, within the ACL and the FE and the HE sector and all providers, that that degree of flexibility is now becoming more the norm, in terms of evening and weekend provision, and we are providers that are now open 52 weeks of the year, primarily.

So, I think, as long as the report and the researchers and those that have contributed to that understand the challenges and understand that there needs to be a range of entry points back into learning, that’s an important—. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

This is to everybody now: so, to what extent do you believe that this Bill actually goes towards achieving the aims of the Welsh Government around lifelong learning? Who wants to start?

So, from my lifelong learning perspective, again, just to inform and remind the committee that Wales has an all-age apprenticeship programme, and Wales has had, for some time, an all-age apprenticeship programme. The introduction of lifelong learning in the Bill, and, therefore, if it makes it through, to legislation, is welcomed. But what we need to really understand, and it’s clearly not for the committee, it’s for the commission and Welsh Government in the future, is making sure that the level of funding follows that as well and meets that commitment. So, it’s good that lifelong learning is there, and it will be set in statute; it just needs the resource to back that commitment up. But, as it currently stands, we have an all-age apprenticeship programme, so lifelong learning is an opportunity within that programme.

Just to say that, when you think that people aged 60 who are currently in the workforce would have finished their schooling, many of them, in the 1970s, the world has changed dramatically since then, and the world is continuing to change. So, to say that you stop education when you reach 16 or 18 or whatever is never going to be the case. We’ve got to have lifelong learning throughout our lives, and that culture. What I would hope is that the commission, with its new-found responsibilities, will be able to encourage and develop and, I think, promote, lifelong learning. Again, I think one of the key responsibilities is actually to promote lifelong learning, and I think having that central agency will be absolutely crucial. And I think, underpinning this is what we’ve discussed already, the parity of esteem. Vocational qualifications are as important as academic qualifications. And, again, it’s very hard to crack that nut—we've been trying for many, many years to achieve it. But the commission has an opportunity to take that forward and see that vocational and academic as part of lifelong learning, something that goes on until the day you die, basically.

10:00

Thank you very much, Chair. In the papers, it's very clear that the commission has said, in regards to lifelong learning, that there will only need to be a 'reasonable' provision. So, what do you think the Bill means for the adult learning provision, when it does state it only needs to provide 'reasonable' provision?

Thanks, James, for that. Obviously, I—. To reiterate the point I made earlier on, the word 'reasonable' is a pretty soft one; the word 'proper' is a much tougher one. And, at the moment, as the Bill's written, over-19s [correction: facilities for over-19s] are still 'reasonable' and under-19s, 16 to 19, are 'proper'. As I say, the only glimmer of hope for us is this notion of the 'eligible persons', which would have 'proper' facilities—this is the new clause 91. I would hope that there would be a big debate about who those eligible persons are. But I hope it would open the door for many categories of learners who, at the moment, are not included in funding and so on. So, I see this as an opportunity, James, but we have a lot more work to do and we need to have a lot of discussions with Welsh Government and, indeed, with the commission, about what the term 'eligible' actually means. But I think it could be opening the door to many developments, so I'm an optimist on this one, not a pessimist.

Thank you, James, and just to support John, really. There are lots of references in the Bill to Welsh Ministers' regulations, and the issue around 19-plus and 'eligible person' is subject to Welsh Ministers' regulations. And, unfortunately, as a representative of the provider network, I can't get excited quite yet about meeting the commitments of lifelong learning until we know what an 'eligible person' is. Because there is a commitment—it's made it through into the Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru co-operation agreement as well— to extend lifelong learning, but, ultimately, funding needs to follow. And I would hope, in the commission, when it is established—. And we talked earlier about information sharing—information and the sharing of information is not the aim; the aim is to arrive at a data set whereby you can make intelligent decisions. And I would wish for a stage where the commission is making intelligent decisions and then ensuring that the funding follows where there's going to be greater impact. So, lifelong learning as a concept is a great one, but it costs money, and what the commission has is the opportunity to ensure that that funding is used for the best possible impact, be that on the individual or the economy. So that, I think, is where you really get—I would certainly get—excited about lifelong learning. But, absolutely, you're right, John—cradle to grave, there should be an entitlement and right for all.

Okay. This probably will lead on to my last two questions, because, in a previous life, when I was a cabinet member, I know that the apprenticeship system is very competitive. The procurement exercise is massive; it involves a lot of third sector and private commercial companies. So, what do you think this Bill will mean for apprenticeship provision, since it's procured and operates on a different basis from HE and FE? I'm going to ask Arwyn, if you don't mind, to start on this one, Chair.

Thank you, James. I don't think it'll make any difference, in terms of going back to the response in terms of the timing. We're currently in year 1 of that procurement process, which resulted in 10 commissioned contract holders servicing the whole of Wales for the whole of the apprenticeship provision, with a whole chain of sub-contracted organisations that are delivering that expertise and specialists on behalf of the employers and the commissioned contract holders. I fail to see—. Well, I would hope we're in a situation where, as trusted providers, we can be on the register. And if we're on the register, then we can receive funds and then we don't have to go through a long procured process to procure the provision that you're talking about. 

But the one thing for me that I think needs to be consistent across the whole of this—and I know we might come on to it—in terms of when we're talking about consistency across the piece, and we've got degree apprenticeships in the piece as well, and we were talking about lifelong learning in the previous conversation: I honestly think there needs to be an absolute consistency about the quality assurance mechanism across the whole piece of the apprenticeship programme, which is something that is not currently consistent. I know the commission is going to have Estyn within its remit, but, in the context for me, degree apprenticeships should follow in the same format in terms of the apprenticeships up to degree apprenticeships, and they should all come under that quality assurance mechanism. I hope that will make for a much more collaborative and a much clearer pathway throughout the whole process. But as for how future procurement—. I don't think, unless I'm mistaken, Jeff, there's anything in this Bill at all that makes it very clear how the future commissioning of apprenticeships will occur or take place. 

10:05

And I guess—. Thank you, Arwyn. I guess the only thing that's in the Bill and the explanatory memorandum is the opportunity for both the commission and, indeed, Welsh Ministers to fund providers directly. So, currently, the apprenticeship provider network gets funding directly from Welsh Government and the Welsh Minister, and therefore is accountable to that. In the fullness of time, we may have a dual system, which, again, adds to that consistency, but inconsistency.

I've got one more question. It was just touched on about collaboration—and I know an awful lot of collaboration goes on at the minute to deliver learning pathways, lifelong learning opportunities and apprenticeships—so, how do you think this Bill will help drive more collaboration between providers?

It is happening, James. You've just got to look at degree apprenticeships as an example of that, where particularly, given the type of provision that is currently being delivered, you have FE colleges working with universities and the employer—so, there's a coherent sort of pathway there for the continuum of learning that is an apprenticeship. So, collaboration is already happening. I guess the only way that the Bill will add to that is because the commission will have to have due regard to collaboration within its commissioning powers—so, it just puts it higher on the agenda. But is it not happening now? Well, no it's not. It's happening now, and it's happening through funding and quality assurance measures as well. 

I'm just conscious of time, but, Arwyn, is there anything you wanted to add briefly?

Yes, please. I would really, really hope that they get to a process where the data sharing and all of that type of stuff does add to real collaboration, and that we're not spending time or energy or public money on duplication of delivering the same level of qualification that's already being delivered somewhere else in the system, and that we can focus on what needs to be delivered, as opposed to what's already being delivered. That's a real nightmare for us currently: nothing comes across from any other part of the system. It's like you're always starting, whichever entry point you're at, from zero. So, I really hope that that will address that issue, if nothing else.

Just quickly, Chair. It's in our DNA at Addysg Oedolion Cymru that we work in partnership with a huge range of organisations, so the Bill actually won't make much difference to that. What it might do though, by planning for the whole post-16 sector together, there may be an increased probability, or an increased chance rather, of there being more effective collaboration. Because there is a lot of competition between institutions at the moment, and I think having a single planning body might actually help reduce that, and reduce duplication as well.

Jest un cwestiwn bach gen i ynglŷn â darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg, achos mae gan y Bil rai eithriadau ar gyfer Gweinidogion Cymru mewn perthynas â darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg, gan gynnwys mwy o bwerau i ariannu a chyfarwyddo darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg. Jest eisiau holi eich barn chi am y pwerau hyn.

Just one small question from me with regard to Welsh-medium provision, because the Bill does include some carve outs for Welsh Ministers in relation to Welsh-medium provision, including more powers to fund and direct Welsh-medium provision. I just wanted to ask your views on these powers, please.

I think, if those powers allow, I guess, for a continuation and, dare I say, the improvement in the current relationship, where Welsh Ministers fund providers to be able to develop their provision, be that upskilling staff, developing qualifications and new curriculum, et cetera, I think that can be a positive. We've questioned from the outset the relationship between the coleg and the commission, and how that would work, because, currently, apprenticeship providers have a very good relationship with the coleg, and are really working well with the coleg to develop the aspirations set out in the FE and the apprenticeships plan.

I guess this comes back to the other point then, doesn't it, in terms of the ability for the commission to fund, and also the ability for Welsh Ministers to fund and where those lines of demarcation are, and who's responsible to who. But I would say that if we can get resource into the provider network in order that they are able to develop their provision to meet demand, and particularly future demand, then that can be a positive thing, but it just needs to be clear who's funding and whom the providers are accountable to.

10:10

Diolch, Sioned. I think anything that can be done to enhance and grow Welsh-medium provision is a good thing. The difficulty that we have—I agree with everything that's been said around this. The difficulty that we've had is that this is part of a much broader and fundamental issue, and that is that we are not retaining enough people with the skills to deliver the needs that we have around Welsh-medium provision. So, I know this is probably another debate for another time, but I think there needs to be far more focus on investing in Welsh-medium teachers for the future and to have much greater awareness of economic issues. We are losing these skills, and we need to retain them within Wales in order to really support and enhance Welsh-medium provision.

As an organisation, our vision is to provide equal access through language of choice in any course within our curriculum offer at the moment, and, unfortunately, the curriculum offer through the medium of Welsh is dictated by the skills that we can find, rather than the other way around. We should be able to be in a position where we can put any course on anywhere in Wales and offer it through the medium of Welsh or English or bilingually, and, unfortunately, we are all scrabbling around, trying to find the skills, and they are simply not there, so it's part of a much, much bigger and more fundamental issue in our view. Diolch. 

Diolch, Kathryn. A allaf i jest holi ymhellach ar hynny: beth sydd i gyfrif am hynny yn eich barn chi? Ai diffyg buddsoddiad mewn hyfforddiant, ai diffyg cyllid o ran telerau a chyflogau? Beth sy'n bennaf gyfrifol dŷch chi'n meddwl?

Thank you, Kathryn. Can I just probe that a bit further? So, what's the reason for that, in your view? Is it a lack of investment in training, is it a lack of funding in terms of pay and conditions? What's primarily responsible for the situation?

In my personal view, I think it's a whole range of factors. I think the job market isn't always vibrant enough to retain, from my experience, young Welsh-speaking people within Wales. I'm a mother of four bilingual children, three of whom have grown up and moved to England to find jobs, so I can talk from experience around that. I can also say from experience that the language of the school, even in Welsh-medium provision, in the school, is predominantly English outside of the classroom, so we've got a minority language, unfortunately, that's being dominated by the English language. I don't know what can be done about that specifically, other than there are cultural aspects to this, but there are also economic aspects around rurality and opportunities within Wales that, unfortunately, mean we are not able to retain our citizens who've got these skills. It's not an easy question, and it's not an easy answer, but I can only talk from my own personal experience on that. 

Thank you. And, again, just within a vocational training context, particularly with apprenticeships, we have to consider the workforce. What we have to do, first and foremost, is bring people in with the occupational skills. They may not have Welsh language skills, so that's the first thing we need to do, and once we get them into the workforce, we've now got an infrastructure to be able to develop their Welsh language skills from a baseline of zero all the way through. And all we need—if I'm honest, Sioned, to answer your question specifically—is the time and the resource to be able to develop the existing workforce. From an apprenticeship provision perspective, there is not a workforce out there waiting to be recruited who have Welsh language skills. It's occupational skills first and foremost, and then you develop those practitioners, which takes time; myself included. It just takes time. But we are on the right trajectory with the work that the network is doing with the coleg.

10:15

Thank you all for that. We're really tight on time, but Laura has some important questions around quality assurance as well. So, if everybody could be as succinct as possible. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. You've all touched on it already, but I just wanted to ask: in your opinion, to what extent are the quality assurance arrangements in the Bill satisfactory?

Yes, I will be very quick, Laura. Thanks for the question. Obviously, at the moment, there are different ways of measuring quality in each of the different sectors, and I think we would want over time for those to come together much more closely, but it's going to again take time. It's not going to be done on 1 April 2023, but it would seem sensible that provision is much more—[correction: that quality is much more co-ordinated.] Wales is quite a small country; we're smaller than an English region. We can have a common quality system, but it's going to take a few years to develop. So, it's not actually in the legislation, but by setting up a commission and giving it responsibility for quality, I think there's a way forward, but not straight away.

As I've previously commented, I just fully endorse what John says. If there's fairness and consistency here and the quality assurance bit—. There are only two things that change hearts and minds: one of them's quality, the other one's funding. So, it needs to be consistent.

Thank you for those responses. The Minister has explained that parity of esteem between academic and vocational learning is the goal. Do you think this Bill will deliver that ambition, particularly when different types of provision are treated differently in the Bill?

You asked us to be succinct: no.

That's what I like. [Laughter.] Ten points here now. John, can you better that?

I'll be succinct. Obviously, I would agree, but, in the longer term, it's a huge opportunity to improve and develop parity of esteem, but it's going to take a long time. 

Thank you. This is my last question. What other risks, if any, does the Bill bring for apprenticeship and adult learning provision? Are there any further points you'd like to make on the Bill?

Just to reinforce, if I may, the lack of the consistency and inconsistency again, where Welsh Ministers maintain function for apprenticeships and the commission maintain functions. Welsh Ministers maintain the strategic stewardship, the commission maintains or takes forward the day-to-day stuff. Wales has a very good apprenticeship programme; it needs to develop further—of course it does—but that is the aim of all apprenticeship programmes. What is needed is the infrastructure for that to happen and that involves people, it involves clusters, it involves discussion, but that takes resource, and what I'm not seeing anywhere in the Bill, or indeed in the explanatory memorandum, is where Wales is going to get its resource from to maintain its own apprenticeship system. So, there are risks, and I think that separation of responsibilities is one that is not currently there. We've called as an organisation for a body to have responsibility for apprenticeships in its entirety, and we're not seeing that currently.

Just to be very quick, just on the parity of esteem thing, just to say that the commission doesn't have responsibility for schools below 16. If you're going to bring about parity of esteem, schools have got to know about apprenticeships and vocational courses as well as academic. So, that's why it's a very long job. It's not just the 16-plus providers; it's actually the whole school system, school teachers, the press, the media, the public, and so on. So, it's a big job. Sorry to go back over that question, Jayne. Thanks. 

10:20

Yes, finally from me, obviously we must be mindful in terms of, probably, the disruption that the implementation of this could cause to the sector at a time when we are all struggling, to be honest, both in catch-up and in trying to help employers in the economy resource staff and apprentices, et cetera. So, that's clearly a risk. 

Thank you, Arwyn. Thank you, Laura. Diolch yn fawr. That's the end of this evidence session. I really appreciate all the evidence that you've given us this morning. You will be sent a transcript in due course, but thank you very much for joining us this morning.

For Members, we'll have a very short break now until we come back for the next panel at 10:25.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:21 a 10:25.

The meeting adjourned between 10:21 and 10:25.

10:25
3. Bil Addysg Drydyddol ac Ymchwil (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 8
3. Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill - evidence session 8

Welcome back to our evidence session on the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill. This is our eighth evidence session, and we're joined today by our witnesses for this session, who are David Notley, who is the co-chair of the Innovation Advisory Council for Wales, Professor Hywel Thomas, president of the Learned Society of Wales, and Professor Helen Fulton, vice-president for humanities, arts and social sciences, the Learned Society of Wales. You're all very welcome. Just to say that Members will be asking you questions, and unless questions are directed at a specific organisation, I'll seek responses first of all from the Learned Society of Wales and then followed by David Notley. So, I'll start with the first question. Can you set out the main benefits of conducting research and innovation, and why a public body should fund this activity?  

Thank you, Chair. I'd just like to say first of all, if I may, how pleased we are to be here and how grateful we are for the opportunity to give evidence to the committee. And I suppose, in a way, I'd start by saying that all the dreadful things that are happening to us at the moment to do with COVID, and all the potential worries we have about climate change, in some ways make it easy for me to answer that question, because I think it's probably clearer today to most people how important science research is. You only have to think—obviously, stating the obvious—that we've probably got the outcome of long-term research actually literally flowing through our own veins, so to speak, having had all the vaccinations. So, that's a very acute case, obviously, but it is a very important case to show how important research and innovation is.

The climate change agenda is important in Wales, as in all other places, and that's another really, really critical area where I think research and innovation has already delivered, and will continue to need to deliver. Here in Wales, we have the particular challenge to do industrial decarbonisation. That area requires research and innovation, I think, in order to address that problem and solve that problem. 

So, I hope that's a quick flavour of the importance of the area, shall we say. Then, on the second part of your question about the public side and the public money, in terms of the Bill itself, I guess it's quite important for me to highlight that the research support that would be provided is part of a dual funding system, dual support system, where the university sector receives money from the Welsh Government as one leg of that, and then also bids into UK Research and Innovation for funding. So, a key reason, I would suggest, is it's important here in Wales to maintain that funding is related to that, so that our HE sector is fighting fit, if I can use that phrase, to compete for what is a much bigger pot of funding in UKRI, and has been increased quite substantially in the last budget. The fundamental answer, though, I suppose, to your question, Chair, is that it's good value for money. We as a community, as a society, gain the sorts of benefits that I talked about before from investing public money in research. I hope that helps address your question, Chair. 

Yes, thank you very much. David, did you want to come back on that? 

Yes, absolutely. Good morning, everybody, and thank you for the opportunity to give evidence here. I feel like I need to give a little bit of context as well, because some of the things that I'm going to be saying are influenced by that context. So, my background is probably different to others that you're consulting with. I've worked in venture capital. I've built and exited from businesses. I'm involved in a range of early stage technology companies and raising funding and so on, and they're globally focused technology companies. I'm also, obviously, co-chair of the Innovation Advisory Council for Wales. But what I think is really important to emphasise is that IACW is concerned with innovation in all its forms and how Wales can harness innovation as a tool for change and for addressing the grand challenges that Wales faces. I said in my written evidence beforehand that, as a council, as an advisory body to Welsh Government, we have a perspective, which is that innovation exists in a spectrum. So, absolutely it's about science and research, and that is fundamentally important and needs to be properly funded, but it's also about the other end of the spectrum, which is continuous improvement, digital transformation et cetera. And that impacts across the public sector, the third sector, and across society as whole. So, I will be constantly referencing factors that are about innovation in its broadest sense and not just research. And I will also be talking about how we translate research into impacts on that kind of broadest range of innovation.

So, to answer the question specifically, history is littered with evidence that the public sector and Government is a crucial tool in seeding innovation. And that doesn't matter what political spectrum you're on, or what kind of economy you have; it's a demonstrable fact that public sector funding helps to seed early stage innovation and helps to change things. And I think if Wales wants to move the dial, if you like, on so many of the grand challenges that we have, we need Government to lead the way. And, as Hywel said, it is fundamentally really good value for money, and if we want to know the challenges that we face, if we look at almost every measure of innovation, Wales is at the bottom of every league table, and we need to change that. And the public sector and Government have a crucial role in changing that.

10:30

Thank you. That moves us on to what extent you believe legislation is necessary to achieve the policy objectives that this Bill is intended to work towards. Are those policy objectives clear to you?

I'll go first again, Chair.

So, I guess my understanding of the background of the Bill is that the objectives were for tertiary education in general. I will take this opportunity to say that the learned society supports the Bill, supports the introduction of the Bill and is, generally speaking, totally content with the direction of travel and with the plans and so on. In general, the policy objectives seem to us to be clear, and we probably would echo a lot of the evidence given to you this time last week, I think it was, or maybe a little earlier than this time last week, by the University of Wales and the Open University. We're probably singing from a similar hymn sheet.

We are interested as the learned society in the whole spectrum of the range of interests of the Bill, as you'd expect. We're interested in education. It's of primary importance to us as a country, we believe—stating again, probably, the obvious. In the range of all of the things that the Bill covers, our work and our interests are probably most closely aligned to the research and innovation agenda. And while we do absolutely acknowledge that research is covered in the strategic objectives and so on, if we had, probably, request No. 1 to make and to deliver to you on a day like today, it would be that maybe there would be a particular strategic objective related to research, and we make that request as gently as we possibly can, but that is our view, Chair.

So, again, I think, in broad scope—I can't speak for IACW as a whole, but speaking personally—I concur with the broad objectives of the legislation. However, I don't think there's sufficient emphasis on translational research and the link between higher education, higher education activities, research activities and the broader mission-orientated challenges, if you like, that we face as a country. And I think that could be strengthened. And I think we could set out in the legislation requirements to ensure that that sort of translational research has an impact on wider society and the economy and public services and so on.

10:35

Concerns have been raised with us regarding the information-sharing provisions in the Bill. Do you think they could inhibit information sharing with the commission, particularly for research and innovation collaboration? Hywel.

There may be an issue in the heart of that, I suspect, but the answer to that is the commission will need to be flexible to share data with organisations. That would be our response and our thinking in relation to that. But, as I guess with anything at this kind of level, there will be nuances and there will be details that will need development and refinement as thinking continues, shall we say?

I don't have any major concerns in this area. I think these things can often be set up to be challenges, but in reality, on the ground, when one is working with the realities that one faces, provided that people are prepared to be pragmatic and consensual about what they're doing, then I can't really see that there should be a significant issue here. 

Sometimes, I think there's a danger that people will hide behind legislation as an excuse for not doing things. And we've always got to be wary of that, but I think if people are purpose orientated and are prepared to be pragmatic and work within the structures they've been given, then it shouldn't necessarily cause a problem.

Thank you. We've touched on this a little bit, but what are the key policy issues in Wales in relation to research and innovation, and do you think the Bill addresses those? And what is the evidence that it will deliver benefits for research and innovation activity? 

Perhaps I could—

Yes, thank you. I'll address that question. Obviously, research and innovation in Wales is hugely wide-ranging and is already very flexible, very adaptable, very responsive to key policy areas in Wales. So, clearly, issues such as post-pandemic recovery, climate change, delivering on the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 are clear priority areas for research and innovation in Wales at the moment. And these are already being addressed right across the spectrum of disciplines, not just the STEMM subjects—science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine—but also the HASS disciplines, of humanities, arts and social sciences, are all contributing to these policy areas.

In terms of the evidence of the benefits of this legislation in terms of supporting research and innovation, I suppose that the most important thing to come out of it will be to keep teaching and research together. At the learned society, we believe that that's a really important objective—to have teaching and research as part of the same enterprise in higher education. And I think the commission should be able to better facilitate those kinds of collaborations between further education and higher education, which will have a very important role in helping us to promote why research matters. Thank you.

So, as I've already outlined, really, I think that there's more that can be done to ensure better translational research, better engagement between higher education research and the wider challenges that the economy and society face. And that, I think, is a question of building on what we've got. It's not a question of criticising anything that currently exists, but I think it’s a question of saying, 'Right, okay, how can we actually improve the way in which higher education research collaborates with the wider economy and society, and makes a direct and measured impact on some of the grand challenges we face?' I'm a big fan of a lot of activity in universities and higher education, and in further education, actually, around things like 'agile' and 'lean'—things that relate to small and medium-sized enterprises and so on—but I don’t think that research is getting to the people that it needs to get to. So, if we have a range of challenges we’re trying to face—. I’ll give you some examples: how do we improve productivity in SMEs? The higher education and further education sectors have a massive role to play in that, but I don’t think that is being played at the level that it could be at the moment. How do we drive digital transformation in public services? Again, there’s a role there, but I’m not sure it’s happening to the extent that it could. How, for example, could we harness the third sector to impact environmental challenges, because the third sector can definitely do that? Again, I think there’s a role for higher and further education in that, but I’m not sure that’s actually happening.

And there are all sorts of other slightly unconventional things. So, for example, how do we harness the sports infrastructure in Wales to impact health and well-being? The higher and further education sectors have a lot to say about sport, for example, and they’re very active in those areas, if that’s not a pun. But how do we actually—? And, indeed, Wales has world-class sports capabilities, sports research, et cetera, but I don’t feel, at the moment, that there’s the necessary impetus to translate what the higher education and further education sectors are doing in that space to actually, for example, impact on people’s health and well-being. I think we can do more, and I think the legislation can mandate that.

10:40

Thank you. The Bill’s documentation sets out that the potential implementation costs for other bodies is unknown. Is there likely to be a cost impact on organisations that conduct R&I? 

Perhaps I could take that one. We don’t anticipate any cost to HE institutions. We assume that funding won’t be diverted from existing research budgets to establish and set up the commission. Obviously, the cost of implementation will be considerable, but we would expect that money not to come from existing research budgets. So, we don't see a problem with the cost of setting up the commission.

I have to confess, this is not an area that I know a huge amount about, so I’m not going to pass comment. I think it seems to me, from the outside—. I work with universities a lot. There ought to, on the face of it, be capacity to ensure that there’s not a challenge in that area.

Thank you. The Minister told the committee on 19 November that he intends for the commission to be set up in 2023 and operational in 2024-25. Can you tell us about any concerns that you have regarding the timings and process of physically establishing the commission and setting up all the regulatory machinery, for example? Helen.

We don’t see any immediate problems. Obviously, some kind of staged implementation or introduction or changing to a new system would be welcomed. I suppose the only slight hesitation would be over the timing of the next research excellence framework and whether the transition is going to interfere with universities’ preparations for the next REF. But that would be our only concern, I think. Thank you.

Can I chip in well?

I guess it may be something that we can return to during the course of this session, but I’ve already mentioned the dual support system for the universities and the fact that they need to seek funding from UK sources. I think it's important right now to be mindful of the fact that there are no less than four reviews taking place at the moment, initiated by the Westminster Government, of this sector and this landscape. So, I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that there's never a great time to introduce change, is there, as Helen said. But I do think it's very important to keep an eye on those UK-wide changes, those reviews and the things they might suggest in the totality of what we're talking about.

10:45

Well, it's a fast-moving environment, isn't it? There is all sorts of stuff going on. I mean, I would absolutely agree with that. I think that one of the big issues is when are we going to get certainty from Westminster about funding in this space, about other things like the shared prosperity fund, community renewal funds and so on. So, that's a really big issue. For me, the timeline of 2023 doesn't ring any alarm bells. I think the most important thing is to get it right and not provide for artificial time frames or deadlines, but to get it right.

What I would observe is that, as you're probably all aware, the Welsh Government is undertaking a fundamental review of innovation policy now across the whole of Government, and it seems to me that this area of activity needs to feed into that as well. So, to answer the question, 2023 I don't think is a big deal in itself; what is more important is to make sure that we co-ordinate all of the moving parts and we get things right and build a platform that we can actually scale effectively.

Thank you, David. We'll now go to Laura Anne Jones for some questions. Laura.

Thank you, Chair. The Bill seems to limit the commission to only being able to provide research and innovation funding to registered providers, and this in turn would seem to limit R&I funding to only universities. There is some concern that FE colleges and those bodies who can access UK-level public research and innovation funding would not be able to receive commission funding as they would not be registered. The statement of policy intent does not signal any intent to create a category of registration for R&I. In England, a much wider range of institutions and bodies can be funded by the UKRI to conduct R&I. What is your view on this, and what does it mean for non-university R&I activity? Thank you.

Well, I think there are other sources of funding for non-HE institutions, such as further education colleges, who can apply for other sources of funding. So, I think it's right that the commission is focusing on universities. It is, after all, an education and research Bill, and research is what is done by universities. So, I don't think that there would be a huge impact on research and innovation activity outside of higher education.

I think the important thing is that we leave the way open to collaborations with institutions of all kinds outside higher education, not just further education but also the major institutions of Wales, like the national library, the national museum, the royal commission and so on, and that we have the opportunity to develop networks and opportunities, to build collaborations between universities, bodies outside HE, and business, of course, because this is a model of success in capturing research and development funding from other bodies. So, we don't see a problem in that area.

So, perhaps not unexpectedly, I'm going to take a different view there. I think this is a problem. And it's not a problem in a narrow sense; it's a problem because does it encourage collaboration? Does it, indeed, maybe mandate collaboration? Does it facilitate collaboration? And, for myself, and speaking for the Innovation Advisory Council for Wales, there are real dangers in funding being siloed in particular directions or particular areas. And I'm quite content for the funding to be rooted, if you like, through the education sector, because this is specifically about research, I understand that. However, if there is a mechanism that facilitates, encourages and possibly even mandates collaboration, I think that will be a positive thing. And I think there is opportunity to allow for pull i.e. for organisations outside the HE and FE sector to pull research out of those institutions. So, to make that practical, why would it not be possible to get a small group of industry or public sector together and approach a university and say, 'Why don't we put a bid together for X, Y or Z, because this would be to our benefit?' And the university would benefit as well and so on. But if you're got a set of circumstances and mechanisms that allow for that, then I think that's a positive. And the danger is the opposite: if the funding is rooted to the universities, to the FE sector, then it's incumbent on them to reach out, should they choose to do so. And that might not always be the case.

10:50

Okay. Thank you. The commission will seemingly have no role or duty with regard to research and innovation activity, and the funding that currently occurs outside the higher education sector. What is your view on that?

I recognise the points that David make, personally, and I recognise some of those issues. I don't want to be dismissive of David's and the innovation council's worries, but I'm just not quite convinced, I suppose, that this Bill and this mechanism is the way to address those. There are things happening, as I'm sure you know, David, out there in the skills sector—HE and FE are working together and regional skills and so on; and I mentioned climate change a little bit earlier.

So, maybe, just to share a few thoughts that maybe it's not quite as black and white as it might be appearing. But we still maintain the view in the learned society, as expressed by Helen, really, that, as far as this Bill is concerned, and as far as the funding that is talked about here in this Bill is concerned, it is extremely important for us that that is seen within the dual support system. The amount of money that's now being made available to UKRI from the last budget is going up to £20 billion, and I'll just stop for a moment on that figure. That's a colossal amount of money that's being made available for research and innovation. What is really, really important, I think, is that the Welsh universities, as part of this dual support system, are strong, fit and agile to compete with the other UK universities for that pot of money, and to bring that back to Wales. And within that pot of money there is a significant sum of money for Innovate UK, which is specifically for innovation. So, I'll just make the general point, without disagreeing at all with the points that David's making—I'm very well aware of some of the people that David works with; in fact, Rick Delbridge is a special adviser to the president of the Learned Society of Wales i.e. myself, so we have many things in common—but the route that we would see that would be the best way forward on this is related more to the points that I've just made.

So, absolutely, I don't disagree; there is a lot of activity. There are many things that we can point at that are good practice, best practice, occasionally world-class practice. But the challenge that we have is that, well, (a) there's not enough of it, and I think we all understand that, but (b) so much of what happens, happens in siloes. So, my question would be: why lose the opportunity with this Bill to build on collaborative frameworks and to facilitate that and to provide for mechanisms that allow that to happen? And Hywel has referenced Rick Delbridge, so Rick was one of the authors of a report on innovation in Wales that we commissioned from Cardiff University. I did submit that as part of my evidence beforehand, and I would highly recommend that both the Cardiff University report and the Amplify report are considered, because there are lots of really good recommendations there about how we get innovation—the flywheel spinning in Wales, how we improve collaboration, how we avoid the siloing of activities and so on.

So, what I would say in conclusion is that I'm not criticising here—I'm not criticising, I'm just saying we can get better at the collaborative piece and we can leverage a whole range of capabilities that we have in Wales, but if we allow research and innovation to become siloed, if we don't take the opportunities to build a broader ecosystem, then I think we're missing a trick. I totally understand the points that have been made here, and I get the fact that research is a globally competitive environment, and Wales needs universities that can compete globally, and to do that, you need funding. I completely understand that, and we have some really good, as I said, world-class examples of that already in Wales, but we're not knitting everything together effectively, and I believe this is an opportunity to begin to address some of those deficiencies. 

10:55

Absolutely, David, thank you for that. And the final question to everybody following on from that: the Welsh Government has considered the option of establishing a separate body to fund research and innovation, in your view, what are the benefits and disbenefits of the commission being responsible for both research and tertiary education? Thank you. 

Thank you. Well, it is about choices, isn't it, and there is an argument to be made for a separate body to fund R&I separately, and one of the UK reviews that are now taking place is about looking at this research landscape and the sort of infrastructure and is it fit for purpose for the challenges that we face, going forward. So, we recognise that this is a reasonable question, a fair question, and it's a matter of choice.

We in the learned society are pleased to see research as part of the education Bill. I personally come from the HE sector, and I've always found the linkage between education and research to be absolutely vital, central to what we do. I know there's a tendency today in some quarters and in some areas to maybe think of these things a little bit more separately, but the people that do this in universities—there's one person that does it, that person does the teaching and does the research, and this linkage through is right at the core, really, of all of my experience of how the research environment grows and develops, the students come in to universities and are exposed to the research environment. So, generally speaking, we are pleased that that is the situation and it's continuing, but we do recognise there was a choice that could have been made. Thank you.

So, I think this is a tricky one, really. At the end of the day, it's got to be about outcomes, hasn't it? Where do we get the best bang for buck, so to speak? How do we have the most impact? How do we create innovation, research, science ecosystems that are wholly connected to one another? I know I'm painting a slight nirvana here, but for the purposes of illustration, I think it's probably allowed. How do we ensure that? And I think we have a very real opportunity in Wales to do that, because we have a compact country, we have natural linkages, if you like. And my worry is that we take an approach that encourages and solidifies the siloing of research and innovation. And I think that's just a bad idea. And I think anything that we can do to ensure cross-cutting collaboration has to be a positive. So, I don't know whether I've answered your question, but my feeling personally is that there are dangers in associating the source of the funding directly into the higher education sector. 

11:00

Thank you, Laura. Moving on to some questions now from James Evans. 

Thank you, Chair. I want to talk about the research and innovation duty and the funding. The commission will have a strategic duty to promote continuous improvement and collaboration and coherence with regard to research and innovation. So, what are your views on this approach and the relevant duties that are set out in the Bill? And this is to everybody. 

Do you want me to take this, Helen? I think this is linked to the last question as well, isn't it? If you have research with the education side, then you have this continuous spectrum from the teaching into the research agenda. Anybody who isn't supportive of promoting continuous improvement in the quality of education and training—I don't suppose you'll have had any witnesses tell you that they disagreed with that. That is obviously a thoroughly welcome and appropriate way forward. So, we're completely supportive of all of that. 

We think that the commission will need to consider, again, looking a little bit outside Wales—there's a UK Government people and culture strategy for R&D that is developing that we think is important—and that researchers within HE in Wales would not be disadvantaged in any way by. And, again, maybe the Welsh Government's new innovation strategy will play into this agenda as well. So, yes, I hope that answers your question, James. Those are our thoughts on the matter. 

Thank you. Another question I've got: the commission will have to have regard to the tertiary education workforce and its requirements for professional development, but not in relation to the research and innovation workforce. What are your views on researchers not being included?

David, did you want to come back on that or anything from the other question?

Sorry, the second question or the first question?

So, the first question very quickly. I think you can tell from the themes that I'm exploring here that my view would be that it doesn't go far enough and that there are opportunities to ensure better collaboration with third parties generally, wherever they might reside. 

On the second question, to be honest with you, again, I don't think I'm really in a position to make a significant contribution here, but it does seem to me to be rather odd that there wouldn't be provisions for continuous professional development, continuous improvement, et cetera, et cetera, in the research infrastructure. Why would you not do it? I don't know.

Obviously, this is an area that is—if you know about the things we're doing at all in the learned society, you'll know this is an area close to our hearts, really. We've actually set up—and we've recently received funding from HEFCW—a network of early-career researchers in Wales. And the thrust of everything that we do, really, on an all-Wales basis is to support our early-career researchers. We think that's really, really important, for obvious reasons, I guess, and the all-Wales approach is proving very successful. So, we're certainly in favour of the continual professional development of our early-career researchers. It's been an issue in the higher education sector for some years, I think, it would be fair to say that that's something that needs close attention. In terms of your specific question as to why it's in the Bill or not, I'm not sure I'm well placed to answer that, really, but I think it's certainly a subject that is already getting a lot of close attention.

11:05

That's fine, thank you. I want to move on to funding now, if that's okay. So, section 104 of the Bill says that the commission must set out and report on the extent to which the research and innovation activities it funds are achieving successful results. Do you think this is a helpful approach, considering the nature of research, innovation and what you do? I like how you're smiling at that one. [Laughter.]

Well, it's a good question, James, that's the first thing I'd say to you. When you put money into research, you obviously want value for money. I wouldn't expect any politician to say otherwise. It stands to reason, doesn't it? But there's a kind of fundamental difference about research to maybe some of the other areas that the Government would fund, in that if you are doing honestly, truly, the full range of speculative research, you can and should expect some of those occasionally to fail, and it's a bit like venture capitalism and company creation. So, it's not a waste of money when some areas are a bit of a dead end. But it is really quite a difficult balance to answer in a question. You want success from the research and innovation money, and if I was sitting in your shoes, I would probably be asking the questions, as we ask ourselves: every pound you put into R&I, you could be putting into other pressing areas of importance. So, it's a very, very real and fair question.

I think it needs this kind of nuanced approach in looking at it. I don't think that direct relationship with success is absolutely the right one, and the other point to make is that sometimes, success is very time delayed as well. You may have been funding—if I can use the example of the pandemic—you may have been funding research in the pandemic area for quite a long time, as I think has happened, and probably many of us were not terribly conscious of the fact that a pandemic may actually come one day, but look at the value for money that's come from that. So, my answer is that it's not a simple answer, James, I guess, so I hope that's helpful.

Yes. If I just come back really quickly on that, just following on a little bit: do you think it'll make the commission a bit risk averse, going forward, that they'll only fund the low-level, the low-risk activities, and actually the high-risk activities, which could deliver big benefits, maybe won't get funded?

I wouldn't put that so much in the commission's remit. I keep making the point—I'm sorry if I sound a bit like a broken record this morning—but for me, it's all about the dual support system. The amount of money that the commission will be getting, when you contrast that with what is in the upcoming UK Research and Innovation budget—after the last budget spending review uplift it's £20 billion—and I think we tend to think of this basic support, the core support, if you like, as the foundations from which we can go forward and bid for money to then do the most speculative research. And I think that's where the discussions then need to take place about what the acceptable kind of hit rate might be. I mean, I'd emphasise, we're not talking about poor research here; we're talking about good quality research that simply didn't yield the promise that you thought it might do—cold fusion, something like that, you know? But some of that wasn't very good research as well.

Thank you, Hywel. David, did you want to come in on those points?

11:10

Yes, please. So, as people know who work in industry and other sectors, it's hard to manage something that you don't measure, so measurement is key to any kind of effective management system, really. But as Hywel was implying there, it gets more complicated than that, because then the question becomes: what do you actually measure? And I think obviously there are different types of research, there are different levels of research, and everybody here will be familiar with the concept of technology readiness levels, from 0 to 9, and so on. If you're doing something at 0, it can be much harder to measure that, whereas if you're doing something at 6 or 7, then it should be much easier to measure that.

So, to try and make that real, if you're in the higher education sector, and you're in a business department, and you're doing research on agile manufacturing techniques, then there ought to be some measures in there as to how that then impacts small and medium-sized enterprises, and local businesses and things like that. If you're doing TRL stuff at 0 on drug discovery, then it's a much tougher thing to do. I agree with Hywel; there is a nuance here, but that's not an excuse not to measure anything. But if you are going to measure something, make sure you choose what you're measuring carefully and intelligently.

Yes, one last question from me, Chair, on funding. The reduction of core grant funding for research and innovation has been a concern for the higher education sector for some time, so what do you think this Bill will mean for the core grant funding for research? That's the final question from me, Chair.

Perhaps I could take that one first of all. I'm sure Hywel will have things to say as well. I think the point we want to make is that the quality-related research funding, or the core funding, is really the basis of funding research in higher education. It's absolutely vital that we preserve that and direct it where it should be directed, into both basic and mission-led, challenge-led research in universities. We currently get about £80 million through the QR funding, which is a relatively small amount, as Hywel said, compared to the kind of sums that can be awarded to UK Research and Innovation, and the QR funding that currently goes to universities on the basis of their performance in the REF, the research excellence framework, really helps universities to then apply for other kinds of support funding through UKRI, through EU funding, and so on. So, that's the dual support mechanism: QR funding on the one hand, and then applying for external grant funding on the other hand.

QR funding is absolutely crucial to the research that universities do, and perhaps one unintended consequence of the creation of the commission could be that the existing emphasis on and recognition of the importance of QR funding, as outlined in the Diamond and Reid reviews, could be somewhat diluted through what the commission is proposing. But the QR fund really must be protected in line with the recommendation of the reviews, and perhaps even increased in order to support more mission-led and challenge-based research, even supporting things like the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and so on. Other kinds of Welsh priorities actually need additional targeted funding if we're to achieve some of those ambitions.

So, I think it's important that QR is recognised as really the basic building block of what goes on in terms of research and innovation in universities right across all subjects, both science, technology, engineering and maths, and humanities and social sciences, and it supports both basic research and mission-led research.

I realise Hywel might want to come back in, but I'm just conscious of time, Hywel, so if you could be brief.

Absolutely, Chair. The final point I wanted to make was that £80 million is a small quantum of funding within the commission's budget, and our second take-home message really would be a request for a balanced funding arrangement, which is needed to ensure that research funding is protected. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Hywel. David, have you got anything briefly to say on this? 

11:15

Yes, very briefly. Again, I'm not sure I'm necessarily qualified to answer particularly here, but to observe: should we allow a situation to develop where funding for basic research is cut? Well, no. Why would we do that? I think what I would say is that we have to be equally cognisant of some of the other aspects that need funding as well, which is more mission-orientated research, addressing challenges, translational research, and so on. So, I don't think anything that I'm saying here argues that we should be taking money from one area and putting it in another area. What I'm arguing for is a more intelligent and joined-up way of ensuring that we pull together all of the moving parts of our innovation ecosystem, and don't just see research on its own.   

Thank you, David. I'm going to move on now to questions from Sioned Williams. Sioned. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Mae gen i gwpwl o gwestiynau ynglŷn â dylanwad Llywodraeth Cymru. I ba raddau ydych chi'n fodlon â'r trefniadau yn y Bil yn ymwneud â sefydlu'r pwyllgor ymchwil ac arloesi, a phenodi'r cadeirydd?

Thank you, Chair. I have a few questions with regard to the influence of the Welsh Government. To what extent are you content with the arrangements in the Bill with regard to establishing the research and innovation—

I'm not sure if it just happened to me, but I think the translation might have—

Yes, that happened to me as well. It was jumpy, yes.

Ocê. Jest i ddweud mae gen i gwpwl o gwestiynau—. Popeth yn iawn nawr? 

So, just to restate—. Is everything working now? 

Felly, cwestiynau ynglŷn â dylanwad Llywodraeth Cymru. Felly, i ba raddau ydych chi'n fodlon â'r trefniadau yn y Bil ynglŷn â sefydlu'r pwyllgor ymchwil ac arloesi, a phenodi'r cadeirydd? 

So, these are questions with regard to Welsh Government influence. So, to what extent are you content with the arrangements in the Bill with regard to establishing the research and innovation committee, and appointing the chair?

Can I take that, Helen? 

Diolch yn fawr iawn am y cwestiwn, Sioned. Efallai gwnaf i dreial ei ateb e'n Saesneg. Dwi ddim yn siŵr bod fy Nghymraeg yn ddigon da i wneud popeth yn Gymraeg. Rwy'n ymddiheuro am hwnna. 

Thank you very much for the question, Sioned. Perhaps I'll try to answer in English. I'm not sure whether my Welsh is good enough to do everything in Welsh. Apologies for that. 

We're satisfied with those arrangements, with the amendments made since the draft. We're not concerned about that after that, so we're grateful for those amendments. 

Not really. I don't have a particular view on that, other than to, obviously, emphasise again that we need to ensure that innovation is seen in its broadest context, and that wherever it's taking place, it's in collaboration with others.

Iawn, diolch. Gall Gweinidogion Cymru gyhoeddi cyfarwyddiadau i'r comisiwn a newid ei gynllun strategol. Rŷm ni wedi cyffwrdd ar hyn yn gynharach. Beth yw'r goblygiadau, yn eich barn chi, yn sgil hyn, os o gwbl, ar gyfer gweithgareddau ymchwil ac arloesi? Oes risg anfwriadol, efallai, ei fod yn gwneud y comisiwn neu ymchwil ac arloesi yng Nghymru yn agored i ddylanwad gwleidyddol?  

Thank you very much. Now, Welsh Ministers can issue directions to the commission and change its strategic plan. We've touched on this already. So, what are the implications, in your view, of this, if at all, in terms of research and innovation activities? And is there an unintended risk, perhaps, that it exposes the commission or research and innovation in Wales to political influence? 

Wel, unwaith eto, diolch am y cwestiwn.

Well, once again, thank you for the question. 

We are, obviously, aware of the points that you're making, Sioned, and we have considered that question. I think, at the end of the day, this is going to come down to the practicalities of how things work. I can envisage occasions happening where there may be such a pressing need for research in a particular area in Wales that I couldn't say that the provision was unreasonable, but I think from where we're sitting, this is very much the devil in the detail, so to speak, and it is how it would be applied. And we can all imagine, I dare say, unreasonable situations occurring where, you know—. But, I can't see that as a real issue, frankly, as we sit here today. Everything that I've seen and heard is very much about a consultative approach, and so on, and so we're not overly concerned about that aspect, Sioned, shall I put it like that?

So, yes, I think I would agree with that assessment. I think the reality is that politics is everywhere, isn't it? Obviously, one would have a concern if there was short-term political interference, if you like, for a specific short-term goal or requirement, but I don't think it's unreasonable that the Welsh Government should be in a position to be able to set the strategic direction of this body. So, I think it's just something that has to be, in a sense. I wouldn't have major concerns. Yes. Because I think—

11:20

Roeddwn i jest yn mynd i ddweud bod y cwestiwn nesaf oedd gen i, mewn gwirionedd, yn gysylltiedig, ac efallai eich bod chi wedi ateb hwnnw yn barod. Ydych chi'n teimlo bod egwyddor Haldane yn ddigon amlwg ar wyneb y Bil, ac a yw hynny'n briodol?

I was just going to say that the next question I have is related to that, and perhaps you've already answered that now. Do you feel that the Haldane principle is sufficiently apparent on the face of the Bill, and is it appropriate for it to be?

Wel, unwaith eto, diolch am y cwestiwn. Fe wnaf i ateb yn Saesneg.

Well, once again, thank you for the question. I'll answer in English.

The wording on the Bill is very similar to that used to define the Haldane principle in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. This is a welcome inclusion in the Bill, although we would welcome specific reference to Haldane, as is the case with other legislation. We recognise the importance of the Haldane principle for sure, and it has served the university sector well for many, many years. We are also—. I could stop at that point, but just to also come back to the point I probably addressed earlier, we also do recognise that a certain amount of directed research is the nature of the day today, and it would be hard to imagine under the circumstances, say, of the pandemic, that there wasn't a certain amount of direction about what research needed to be done. But I think, again, it is very, very much a matter of principle, a matter of how one does it, and the Haldane principle remains an important principle for us. Do you want to add anything, Helen?

Thanks, Hywel. Yes, just to—

Sorry. Just to reinforce what Hywel said, that we recognise that the Haldane principle is kind of implied in the commission terms, but that it is a really important aspect of what we do and an important part of assuring autonomy within institutions. Thank you.

I would agree with that, and I think, again, I will defer to people with much better knowledge in this space than me. What I would observe is that these things are always trade-offs, aren't they? It's a balance to strike. Absolutely, institutions need to be autonomous, but, at the same time, the people who are holding the purse strings need to be able to have control of strategic direction. And I suspect, as Hywel has noted there, it will be in the implementation where those trade-offs and balances will actually manifest themselves.

Hoffwn i fynd yn ôl i'r cwestiwn yna o ymreolaeth sefydliadau, ac efallai symud hefyd at ryddid academaidd, sy'n amlwg yn rhan o hynny. Ydych chi'n teimlo bod y Bil yn defnyddio dull priodol o fynd i'r afael ag ymreolaeth sefydliadau a rhyddid academaidd, ac, os nad ydynt, beth ydych chi'n meddwl dylai cael ei newid? Un peth sydd wedi taro fi, sydd â gŵr sy'n gweithio yn addysg uwch ac yn ymchwilydd—a ddylai'r ymreolaeth honno a rhyddid academaidd fod ar lefel yr unigolyn yn hytrach na'r sefydliad o ran addysgu ac ymchwil?

I'd like to go back to that question of institutional independence, and perhaps turn to academic freedom, which is part of that. Do you believe that the Bill adopts an appropriate approach to institutional autonomy and academic freedom, and, if not, what should be changed? One thing that struck me—I have a husband who works in higher education and is a researcher—should that autonomy and that academic freedom be on an individual level rather than on an institutional level in terms of teaching and research?

Ydych chi'n hapus i gymryd hyn, Helen?

Are you happy to take that, Helen?

Iawn, ocê.

Right, okay.

I think something more could be done to emphasise the importance of academic freedom and autonomy in the Bill. I think there is a risk that the Bill will encourage greater control of what research is done in universities, and I think universities need to have the assurance that they can pursue the kind of research that they think is valuable, as well as tying in with Government priorities. Much research already does follow Government priorities. Much research is already done in collaboration with businesses, with organisations outside universities. The whole impact agenda has meant that our research has to be shown to have a positive impact in society generally, so we already do take into account social and political and economic agendas. But I think, to do basic research, that is very much researcher driven. That has to come from researchers themselves, and we have to make sure that the Bill allows for basic research as well as for mission-led research. So, even something like having the additional statutory duty to fund research and innovation would be a way of assuring that universities have the autonomy to pursue the research that they think is important.

11:25

Thank you. David, did you have anything, briefly, to add? We're very quickly running out of time.

Yes, sure. Again, this is not my area of expertise, so I hesitate to comment, really. But I think my observation would be that not all research is the same, and the sort of autonomy that you would allow in basic research may be different to something that's a bit higher up the technology readiness level, if you like. So, again, I think this is going to be a question of a balance to strike. I think autonomy is very important to higher education institutions, for sure.

Thank you, Sioned. We're just going to go now to some questions from Mike Hedges around collaboration, which we have touched on. Mike.

Thank you. Sorry, I could see you and hear you, but apparently you couldn't see me. Really, my first question on collaboration is: is the Bill going to help collaboration, especially with other organisations that aren't covered by the Bill, such the role that Mr Notley covers?

Yes. I believe it will help collaboration, provided that the quality-related research funding goes to universities in order to support their research. As I've said, research in universities is already highly collaborative, and we can offer collaborations, funded collaborations, with external organisations if we have that money at our disposal. So, I think the Bill will help collaboration as long as the QR funding is directed towards universities.

So, again, I'm going to disagree with that. I don't disagree with the sentiment, but I think there's potentially a missed opportunity here. I think there is an opportunity that could go begging, which is to provide further mechanisms and a framework to encourage and facilitate better collaboration between Welsh universities and the broader innovation ecosystem. And I think the Bill at the moment is a bit too narrow in its perspective on that, and it's potentially a missed opportunity.

The final question is: will the need to get consent from the commission to pass on funds be a barrier to collaboration, particularly considering the level of collaboration involved in research and innovation, and also the amount of research and innovation that is done cross-border, and not just with England, but with other parts of Europe as well?

Thank you, yes. I guess the answer to your question is that this could be a barrier to effective collaboration, so transparent and efficient processes will be essential, and that's what we would advocate.

Yes, I would agree with that.

Wonderful. Thank you very much. That's the end of the evidence session. Thank you very much for joining us this morning, it was really helpful to the committee. You will receive a transcript in the coming weeks, and it just remains to be said thank you very much again.

Diolch. To committee members, we will now have a break for lunch, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, and we will return at 12:25.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:29 a 12:30.

The meeting adjourned between 11:29 and 12:30.

12:30
4. Bil Addysg Drydyddol ac Ymchwil (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 9
4. Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill - evidence session 9

Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to item 4, which is the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill, evidence session 9. I'd like to welcome our panel of witnesses this afternoon. We've got Alastair Delaney, director of operations and deputy chief executive, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, James Harrison, policy officer, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, David Gale, quality assurance manager, Wales, Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, and Jassa Scott, strategic director of Estyn, and Jackie Gapper, assistant director for Estyn. I've managed to get through all your titles there, so that's a good first challenge. You're very welcome and thank you for joining us. Just to advise that, unless questions are directed to a specific organisation, I'll seek responses from Estyn first, followed by QAA. So, we'll go straight into questions. To what extent do you believe that legislation is necessary to achieve the policy objectives that this Bill is intended to deliver, and are those policy objectives clear to you? So, Estyn.

Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon all. Thank you for having us here this afternoon. We think that the inclusion of the specific strategic duties now on the face of the Bill make it much clearer how this piece of legislation will be able to achieve the policy objectives. We've identified through our thematic work over the years shortcomings in current provision and ways of working. For example, we've been disappointed in the lack of progress in post-16 collaborative provision between schools and schools and colleges, and we've also regularly identified something like the need to increase post-16 Welsh-medium provision.

So, we recognise the policy objectives and we recognise that those strategic duties on the face of the Bill really help to make it clear how this commission will be able to take that forward. I think we'd recognise that the current system of disparate bodies and Welsh Government departments with responsibility for different aspects of post-16 education and training hasn't provided the impetus for change needed so far. So, we welcome the establishment of the commission with those clear strategic duties, and the Bill enables that creation of that single body that has the potential to drive change, we feel.

We particularly welcome the inclusion of the strategic duty to promote continuous improvement in tertiary education and research and the recognition that that particular one gives to the crucial role of the workforce in striving for continuous improvement. In terms of delivering those important strategic duties for lifelong learning and equality of opportunity, and particularly including participation from under-represented groups, the commission will need to collaborate and rely on developing strong relationships with other organisations. So, I don't think it will in and of itself and by itself have all the answers to everything, so there'll need to continue to be that working with other bodies, so as, for example, to recognise that some people will need support beyond education and training to overcome some of the barriers that prevent them from progressing to the next stage of their learning or employment.

So, I guess, in summary, we think it has the potential—the legislation, through the creation of that single body, has the potential—to bring that greater coherence and collaboration and address some of the shortcomings that we've identified over the last few years. 

Thank you, Chair, and just as well to say thank you very much for the opportunity. We very much welcome it. In answer to your question, QAA does support the general proposals of the legislation. In terms of quality, I think it's important to understand that they've been developed over years of wide-ranging consultation with stakeholders and agencies across the sector. But, like my Estyn colleagues, we believe that the Bill itself will not make all the difference, and that consultation and that engagement with everybody has been really important, because, if we're not all signed up together to take this forward, then the change that we're all anticipating through this Bill won't happen. 

We personally have been involved in this process for quite a lot of time and have welcomed that engagement. We particularly welcome the significant focus on quality assurance, and we welcome that the commission will focus on taking forward quality enhancement, collaboration and dissemination of good practice, as outlined in the explanatory notes. These are values that QAA holds particularly dear. And like my Estyn colleagues have said, the fact that one of the nine strategic duties is continuous improvement is also very positive.

We also welcome the approach to collaboration across the tertiary sector, and these are steps that we're beginning to see happen elsewhere—in Scotland, for example, through their ongoing tertiary review. So, I think it's a really positive development, and developing an overarching quality framework for tertiary education will help to provide an exciting opportunity for Wales. And lastly, I would say I think we also welcome the focus on student representation in the legislation, which I think we'll be picking up later on, most likely.

12:35

Thank you. Concerns have been raised with us regarding the information-sharing provisions within the Bill. Do you believe they might inhibit information sharing with the commission, particularly for private apprenticeship providers? Estyn.

Sorry, I think I was muting and unmuting at the same time as somebody else then. We've read the concerns that others have raised about that, and particularly about the requirement for the commission to share information with Ministers, and so on. We don't have particular concerns about the proposed arrangements. I think it would be helpful to consider how information sharing could be strengthened across the sectors, and with the commission and Welsh Ministers, to help support learner progression generally. It may be helpful to consider things like unique learner identifiers, or what pieces of information could be used to help better understand learner journeys through the tertiary education system. We already have an expectation that we will currently share information about a range of work that we do with Welsh Ministers, and we'd see the same happening with the commission.

I think probably others are maybe better placed than us in terms of some of those commercial sensitivities, and so on. But there are some existing provisions like that in some of the work we do, and some of the legislation that underpins our work, and some of the work of sectors within the tertiary wider sector at the moment, and we haven't seen that impacting, for example in apprenticeships, on what information has been shared and how that has helped us, or, as is currently, Welsh Ministers and Welsh officials, to undertake their work, or that it's impacted on individual providers and the way they can undertake their work. So, we haven't got particular concerns as a body.

Like Estyn, we don't have particular concerns. Obviously, everything that we share would be compliant with data protection requirements. In everything that we do, what we try to do is have a culture of transparency and openness, and I think that that's the best way to go. So, it's not about information that people would not want to share; I think it should be open and public to help the sector as a whole improve. But it also, I think, can help in minimising requests for the same information—so, the burden on institutions. If we're all asking independently for the same information, then that can obviously cause an issue for them. In the future, I think if we're bringing together a more cohesive tertiary landscape, then a good understanding in particular of student data and their views across the whole sector will be really important. And I think that should be shared around so we understand. So, I think, overall, we would believe that sharing information can be a real benefit to institutions and for oversight of the sector, it's all about how it's used and what it's used for.

Thank you. And this next question is specifically to Estyn. You have touched on it, but what does the Bill as currently drafted mean for you as an organisation?

We hope that the Bill and the establishment of the commission will allow us to contribute to a better shared understanding of quality across the tertiary sector. We welcome the continuation of our statutory powers to enable us to provide independent evidence of the quality of tertiary education, to support the commission in its duties. We've been working increasingly with colleagues in QAA in recent years to develop shared approaches, and the development of that overarching quality framework will allow us to refine that joint working further.

We also welcome the continuation of the statutory powers that underpin other aspects of publicly funded post-16 education and training that will not currently fall within the commission's remit—according to our understanding—such as Welsh for adults, post-18 specialist ALN provision, and offender learning, for example. So, the continuation of those powers, which were given to us under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, 21 years ago, will help us continue to also provide ongoing advice to Welsh Ministers and public assurance in relation to some of those areas. So, overall, we welcome that those powers continue to be there. We welcome the opportunity that this will give to drive more cohesive and coherent approaches to quality assurance, which will hopefully then support the commission in developing that more coherent and cohesive tertiary education sector. So, in broad terms, we welcome that.

12:40

Thank you. In your opinion, does the Bill introduce any innovations or step changes in the quality assurance system, considering it seeks to be transformative? And also, are there any missed opportunities that you think should have been taken?

As I said previously, I think we really welcome that focus—well, the fact of the strategic duties, but particularly that focus to promote continuous improvement and on the importance of the workforce where that's described in a bit more detail. I think it was UCU who said in their written evidence about the need for highly motivated and professionally curious educators. I think we feel that initial teacher education is key in setting that culture of continuous improvement through professional collaboration. I think if there was a missed opportunity that we'd see, it may be that the Bill could specify a duty for us to inspect that provision of initial teacher education for post-compulsory education and training. It's something that's been talked about for quite a while. We've done some pieces of work in support of that and it's indicated in some of the background information that that may be an area where there's a regulatory opportunity there. But we'd see that there's also a missed opportunity to actually put something on the face of the Bill to specify that here. That would really cement that overall importance of the workforce in taking forward all the strategic duties, but particularly that continuous improvement one.

In terms of innovations, I think the proposals allow for a greater collaboration across agencies through that single framework. A single framework can help develop a common language and approach to quality across the sectors into one sector, and that should make transitions and collaborations between institutions and providers a lot easier. I think that's really positive and if that comes to fruition, it will be a really positive development. In terms of a potential missed opportunity, I think, when you look at the quality committee proposals, we welcome the quality committee, but I think we would also welcome more specific guidance within the legislation or in the explanatory notes about its composition. Because currently, the membership is just left to the commission to determine and I think we would welcome clear guidance to include the representations of, for example, quality experts across the tertiary sector, as well as, and really importantly, a commitment to student representation from higher education and further education at least.

Diolch, Chair. Thank you for attending today. First of all, I'm going to ask about commencement and the actual ability to be able to establish the commission. Do you think there are concerns, and if so, what are they, regarding the timings and the process of establishing the commission and setting up all of the regulatory machinery?

I think it is an ambitious timescale, but I do think that probably Bill officials are better placed than we are to consider whether that timescale is achievable. We think it probably is achievable with a recognition that there will need to be then probably a continued period of reflection and review of the new operating arrangements and that kind of ongoing development of those.

In terms of the rationale for the creation of the commission, the current systems, as I said previously, don't appear to be driving the changes needed. So, it's really important that the new organisation breaks down some of those current barriers between different sectors and models, collaboration and cohesion. So, it will be really crucial to create the right culture of continuous improvement, trust and respect from the start, really. And that may be more challenging in the timescale of creating the commission. It's really important that it is set up on that right basis, with that right culture and that old behaviours from previous systems and organisations perhaps aren't taken forward and that it does get put on the right footing straight away. So, I think our one concern would be that, in trying to do something quickly, the time won’t be taken to make sure that it’s got that culture, which can be a little bit harder to build. You can bring an organisation together, but actually creating the right conditions there to really drive the change that's described and rightly set out in those strategic duties may be a bit more challenging.

12:45

Just to support what my colleague just said. We would say exactly the same—2022 is nearly here and 2023 won’t be very far away. So, the timescales are short. Not for the technical aspects, no doubt, of putting together an organisation, but the cultural environment aspects. I think, as I said earlier, we won’t achieve what we want to achieve unless everybody is on board and signed up. And that will take a bit longer to do.

Just to add an extra point, we have a slight specific concern about the designated quality body and how long it may take to make a decision about that. We would be keen to see that decision made earlier rather than later, purely because, again, you can set up an agency and then you can find there’s a period of hiatus because nobody knows what they’re doing and what they’re responsible for, and it takes time then to take that forward. We would ask that the commission considers taking that position forward quite quickly, so that there’s no break in what we’re trying to do in terms of quality. Estyn, in a sense, are slightly different, because they are statutory already, but the DQB, as advised, would need to do some preparatory work and get itself ready to take forward the ambitions of the commission.

That's really helpful. Thank you. I’m just going to move on to the fact that the Bill doesn’t mention the QAA. It’s accepted, I think, that the QAA will almost certainly be the designated quality body for higher education provision, but is the Bill sufficiently futureproofed for this to change if it's required in the future?

I’ll come straight in with that, as, obviously, it affects us most directly. We are not taking it for granted that we would be the designated quality body, although, quite clearly, we would hope to be, and we will make every effort to be.

I think, to start with, the Bill states that before designating a higher education quality body, the commission must consult each registered provider and other persons whom it considers appropriate. I would suggest that we would welcome a strengthening of this to include students in that process. We welcome that the DQB would have option to charge fees, for example. But, again, there’s an issue there about parity, because we would think it’s important that the provision of the cyclical review would be paid for by the commission, because Estyn’s work in further education would be paid for centrally—it wouldn’t be paid for by the provider. So, I think it’s important for parity that those things are considered.

I think we would welcome clarity on the cycles for renewal of the DQB. It’s not mentioned, as far as we can see, and I think that it’s important that that’s not an onerous annual process of renewal. But there has to be an opportunity for people to say, 'Has the designated quality body fulfilled its obligations?', and we totally accept that. It may be sensible to put in a review period to align with the review cycle, which is something like five to six years, and that may be a sensible approach, rather than breaking something mid cycle.

While the process for ending designation as well, as written down, seems sensible, I think we would welcome more safeguards in place to ensure that that’s not removed overnight, but there is a clear process by which that is gone through. And any change to the designated quality body needs to be thought of in terms of transitionary arrangements as well, so that there’s not a gap somewhere where the work isn’t being undertaken.

No, I haven't really got anything to add.

To what extent do you believe that outcome agreements will bring about improvements and benefits?

From my point of view, I think it’s reasonable to expect that the commission will set out expected outcomes for the funding it gives to organisations to support it in its delivery of its strategic plan, and that they would then allow it to drive improvement in particular identified areas. From our point of view, currently, we get a remit letter, which identifies tangible outcomes that we’re expected to deliver to support the Minister’s priorities, in addition to our core statutory work. So, we'd anticipate that that would work similarly for the commission in that they'd expect us to deliver certain pieces of work to support improvement. So, I think, in principle, the idea of designating some outcomes and expectations for the funding that you're giving to bodies seems sensible and has the potential to help bring some of those ambitions of coherence and so on—and support the commission in delivering its strategic aims, really. So, I haven't got much more to add than that, but they have the potential, I think, to bring about benefits and improvements, yes.

12:50

Yes, and likewise as well, I think we see them as a positive development, if implemented well. There needs to be proportionality, of course, in terms of the bureaucratic burden on anything, but there also has to be accountability for public funds. We have an existing outcome agreement process ourselves with HEFCW, but we also have outcome agreements in Scotland, which have been developed over a number of years, so we're used to that as an approach. And when they're well designed and they're backed by a long-term goal with some specific medium-term priorities and setting out ambitions for more than one year—which, I think, is really important as well for making change—they can be flexible, structured yet responsive, and that can be a positive way to take the outcomes that we're trying to achieve forward.

I think COVID-19 has shown the degrees of flexibility that are required when it comes to these kinds of funding arrangements, because things would have to change in light of the circumstances, and so, I think they can't be tied down so much that we can't respond to circumstances as and when they arise. But, overall, they are a good process.

Thanks. Sorry, Chair, I'm conscious of time. I'm just going to ask one more question, if I may. Some stakeholders have told us that they're concerned about Welsh Ministers getting too involved in operational matters and that the Bill gives them the powers to do so. Do you share those concerns, and how significant are they?

No, we don't particularly share those concerns. I think it's appropriate the commission should be working to support the overall aims of Welsh Ministers, and the statement of strategic priorities and the strategic plan appear to be appropriate mechanisms to support that. The legislation gives sufficient powers and autonomy to the commission to be able to deliver on operational matters without Welsh Ministers being overly involved, we feel. And we see the provisions are in the Bill to allow Welsh Ministers to direct or require us being there, if needed. You know, we've got experience from our current legislation that there are some of those types of powers in there, and our experience over a good number of years is that they've only ever been used when needed, and it hasn't led to Welsh Ministers being too involved in operational matters. We can only speak from that experience, so we'd see them as being important provisions for contingency arrangements for particular circumstances, but our experience is that they don't get used inappropriately to be too involved in operational matters.

I was just going to quickly say there has been development, I think, in this over the legislation's development. For example, the designation of the quality body now sits with the commission rather than Ministers, which was a change during that process.

I think what's important to us—I'm sure it would be the same with Estyn—is that it's important that the quality body must operate as an independent body with no interference in its review processes or recommendations. I mean, we need to be able to make evaluations without fear or favour, and that's towards Government, national agencies, but also for providers; we need to be independent of all. But we've got nothing that we've seen in the Bill that leads us to believe that that wouldn't be the case.

Thank you. And that leads us on to questions from Sioned Williams. Sioned.