FP: What are the core strengths of the Welsh higher education system and where do you see it fit competitively internationally?

AW: We are fortunate in Wales to have a rich and diverse group of universities, each bringing their own strengths and areas of expertise and delivering impactful change. Partnership and collaboration underpins our approach, and is a key strength of our university system. The results of this approach are seen across a range of areas, student experience is a clear strength in Wales. The Welsh higher education sector consistently scores well against the U.K. average in the National Student Satisfaction (NSS) survey. We also outperform the rest of the U.K. in terms of retention rates, as well as having the best continuation of study rates in the U.K. for students from widening access backgrounds. Ensuring the wellbeing of students is a key priority for our universities who offer comprehensive pastoral care, mental health and wellbeing support, and financial assistance through scholarships and hardship funds. Welsh universities strive to make all students feel welcome in their new homes and provide opportunities to develop their employability skills, meet new people, and take part in new experiences.

Amanda Wilkinson, Director, Universities Wales

Wales is an incredibly outward facing country. International students play a key role in enriching and diversifying our campuses and communities at a time when retaining an international outlook is more important than ever. This is recognized by all Welsh universities who strive to show Wales as a safe, welcoming, and enjoyable place to study. This is supported by the Welsh Government though the Taith scheme (international learning exchange program) which provides opportunities for inward and outward mobility of students and staff.

FP: As the digital economy grows and student and employee needs evolve, what growth opportunities do online, and blended programmes bring for Welsh higher education institutions?

AW: The growth in online and blended programmes gives Welsh universities opportunities for widening access to higher education, particularly to prospective students who due to financial constraints, caring-responsibilities, or disability may have found studying full-time on campus an added pressure. Similarly, digital progression in education makes lifelong learning more attainable, where students can manage employment alongside studying, or after retirement from work. This flexible approach to work-study balance, means that employers can also benefit from employees taking part in Continuing Professional Development schemes through both higher education and further education institutions.

FP: What fields of research do Welsh institutions excel at in the international arena? How do these contribute to socioeconomic development, particularly in pursuit of the UN SDG’s? What research partnership opportunities exist?

AW: Welsh universities undertake world-leading research that brings tangible benefits to the people and places of Wales. This research will be key to tackling the challenges facing Wales and the world, from climate change to technological change and workplace transformation. The impact of research by Welsh universities is clear to see, with Wales leading the U.K. for proportion of research whose impact is considered internationally excellent or world-leading according to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The Wales Innovation Network (WIN) has been established to capitalise on the diverse strengths of the Welsh research base by facilitating greater collaboration between Welsh institutions, businesses and public bodies, to tackle our biggest challenges and draw further investment into Wales through national and international research partnerships and knowledge exchange. WIN will promote collaboration in key areas such as net zero, health, pandemic preparedness and preparing for a digital future, developing our world-leading projects and programs. Partnership and collaboration are at the heart of Wales’ research success: from international partnerships drawing in investment and expertise, to localised collaborations with small- and medium-sized enterprises bringing innovation to the front line of Welsh business, developing new products, services and jobs.

FP: How are you looking to boost Wales’s global brand as a destination of choice for foreign students and academics?

AW: We run the Global Wales programme — a collaborative and partnership-focused approach to international education in Wales. Global Wales’ values of being impactful, co-operative, and welcoming guide our work with partners. Our team works with Welsh universities to reach out to organisations globally as partners for the benefit of their students and academics. Through Global Wales we oversee the Study in Wales brand. We use this to raise awareness of Wales as an excellent study destination and assist universities in attracting international students. We encourage international students to apply to scholarships and work with current students to share their experiences while studying here. Feedback from international students confirms they receive a warm welcome and that studying here provides them with the chance to take in our unique natural surroundings, history, and culture, whilst gaining a qualification from an internationally renowned university. Digitalisation and automation will bring new social and economic tests and opportunities. Together, the scale of these challenges is unparalleled. By working with partners across the world, Welsh universities will make a contribution to global challenges and our challenges, and help to build Wales’ future.