Welsh students fall behind in race for top honours
THE number of students gaining postgraduate qualifications leapt by 13% last year – the highest rise in the UK.
But the nation lags behind the rest of the UK for the number of first and upper second class degrees awarded, new figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show.
Last summer 11% of students obtained first class honours for their first degree at Welsh universities compared to 16% in Scotland, 13% in Northern Ireland and 12% in England.
A total of 45% in Wales received upper second honours compared to 52% in both Scotland and Northern Ireland and 47% in England.
Last night a leading academic said a lack of funding could be to blame.
Professor Martin A Kayman, head of the school of English, communications and philosophy at Cardiff University, said external marking meant degree standards should be the same across the UK.
“Higher education in Wales is under-funded compared to elsewhere in the UK. Staff and students are of excellent quality.
“The only variable I can see, given the external examining system, is that we are relatively under-resourced,” he said.
Professor Kayman said this funding gap meant richer universities elsewhere in the UK might have lower student-staff ratios, better equipment, books, laboratories and learning environments.
Earlier this year Higher Education Wales, representing university senior managers, warned there was now a £40m funding gap between institutions here, which receive £424m a year, and those in England.
Last year 10,720 students in Wales were awarded postgraduate qualifications – a 13% rise. Elsewhere numbers of students getting post-degree awards rose by 2% in England, by 3% in Scotland and fell 16% in Northern Ireland.
Numbers of students overall rose by 2% to more than 131,760 in Wales last year.
The most popular subjects for undergraduates in Wales are biological sciences, business and studies connected to medicine. Postgraduates are most likely to study business, creative art and design or medicine and dentistry.
Full-time first-year enrolments increased by 4% and numbers of overseas students also rose.
In 2006-07 6,775 students in Wales were from EU countries, 8% more than the year before. A further 11,330 came from non-EU countries to study here – a 16% rise. Numbers of UK-domiciled students have remained the same.
While Wales and Scotland reported a rise in first-year enrolments at universities, numbers fell in England and Northern Ireland where tuition fees of up to £3,000 are paid.
Yesterday the University College Union, which represents academic staff, said prospective students were being put off by the high level of fees, which may still be introduced in Wales in future.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said, “It is hardly surprising that the number of enrolments at universities where top-up fees are being charged has fallen, or that enrolments have increased at institutions in countries not charging them.
“Anyone who really believes that charging more for degrees is the way to encourage students to apply to university is living in a dream world.’’
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales welcomed growing numbers of overseas students which it said was good for the economy.
HEFCW’s head of economic development Roger Carter said, “It is good news for Wales and the Welsh economy that our universities are increasing their share of the overseas students that come to the UK.
“This seems to confirm earlier signals from the good work of the Wales International Consortium in recent years.
“International students enrich the university experience for our own staff and students, and offer the prospect of important new business networks and opportunities for Wales when they return to their own countries.
“Where they are able to stay and set up businesses in Wales, that can be an important contribution to the continued development of a knowledge economy in Wales on which our future prosperity depends.”
Higher education in Wales is under-funded compared to elsewhere in the UK... students are excellent quality