The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act: One year on

Published 08/09/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 (“the Act”) received Royal Assent a year ago. The Act changes the way the post-16 education and training sector is funded and regulated. September is an important month with the Chief Executive and other Board Members taking up their roles ahead of CTER becoming operational in April 2024.

This article explains what the Act does and its passage through the Senedd. It also outlines what’s happened over the last year and what we should expect next as the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER) is established.

What does the Act do?

The Act dissolves the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and creates the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER). The Welsh Government says that CTER will be the “first ever national steward for the whole tertiary research sector” and will have responsibility for the funding, oversight and regulation of all post-16 education and training, including:

  • Higher education;
  • Further education;
  • Local authority maintained school sixth forms;
  • Apprenticeships;
  • Adult community learning; and
  • Research and innovation.

Currently, HEFCW only has responsibility for higher education and the Welsh Government is responsible for the remaining areas within the sector.

The Act also sets out 11 strategic duties for the Commission:

  1. Promoting lifelong learning
  2. Promoting equality of opportunity
  3. Encouraging participation
  4. Promoting continuous improvement
  5. Promoting research & innovation
  6. Promoting collaboration & coherence
  7. Sustainable & innovative economy
  8. Promoting Welsh medium study
  9. Promoting a civic mission
  10. Promoting collaboration between providers & Trade Unions
  11. Promoting a global outlook

It’s expected that CTER’s budget will be around £800m, which will be “one of the highest allocated budgets to an arm’s length body in Wales”.

Senedd scrutiny of the legislation

The Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Bill was introduced by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles MS, in November 2021. At Stage 1 of the legislative process, the Bill was scrutinised by the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee; Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee; and Finance Committee. The Bill passed Stage 1 in March 2022, when the Senedd agreed to its general principles.

Stage 2 took place in May 2022, with the CYPE Committee meeting to consider and vote on amendments tabled by Committee Members and the Minister. Our summary of Stage 2 explains the changes made to the Bill in Committee, and the 200 amendments that were tabled of which 50 were agreed.

There was a further amending stage (Stage 3) on 21 June 2022. At this stage the Senedd considered and voted on amendments which could be tabled by all Members of the Senedd.

On 28 June 2022, the Senedd voted on whether or not to pass the Bill at Stage 4. Fifty Members of the Senedd voted in favour and there were no votes against or abstentions. On 8 September 2022, the Bill received Royal Assent and became the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022.

Appointment of Board Members

Once fully operational, CTER will have a Board and an Executive which will consist of 17 members including a Chair, Deputy Chair, a Chief Executive and up to 14 additional members. The Board will also have associate members representing the education workforce and learners. The Welsh Government says this enables “learners to have a genuine opportunity to influence and advise the Board”. Associate members will be appointed by the Welsh Ministers and will not have voting rights.

Pre-appointment hearings

In December 2022, the CYPE Committee held pre-appointment hearings with the Welsh Government’s preferred candidates for the roles of Chair and Deputy Chair of CTER; Professor Dame Julie Lydon and Professor David Sweeney, respectively.

For both the Chair and Deputy Chair, the Committee saw “no reason not to endorse the Welsh Government’s preferred candidate”. However, the Committee noted that “both of the preferred candidates for each post come primarily from a Higher Education background” and voiced its “disappointment that the mix of backgrounds of the two appointments do not give effect to the breadth of the sector”.

Following an open recruitment process for the role, a panel was unable to recommend a candidate for appointment so the Minister for Education and Welsh Language decided to directly appoint a candidate. In May 2023, the Committee held a pre-appointment hearing for the Welsh Government’s preferred candidate for the role of Chief Executive of CTER; Simon Pirotte.

Again, the Committee saw “no reason not to endorse the Welsh Government’s preferred candidate” for the role of Chief Executive of CTER. However, the Committee expressed that it was “incredibly disappointed with the process that has been followed for this appointment”, but made it clear that this “does not in any way reflect on the preferred candidate, and their suitability for their role”.

Summer announcements

In June, the Welsh Government opened a consultation on the proposed lists of bodies who represent the education workforce and bodies who represent the interests of learners who may nominate associate members to CTER’s Board. There will be at least two associate members who represent the tertiary education workforce and at least one associate member who represents learners in tertiary education.

The Minister issued a statement in August regarding the appointment of seven ordinary Board Members; five took up their roles on 4 September and the remaining two will do so in April as they are currently members of HEFCW. The Minister also said that he’s decided to readvertise the posts later this year. He said that this will “proactively [encourage] applications from ethnic minority candidates” to “ensure that the Commission is able to draw on the perspectives from all of our communities in Wales”.

In August, the Minister made a second Commencement Order, which brought into force a number of the Act’s provisions to enable CTER to “undertake preparatory activities over the autumn and winter”.

What’s next?

It’s expected that CTER will be established this month, with Simon Pirotte taking up the role of Chief Executive and the ordinary board members taking up theirs. The period from September 2023 until April 2024 will be referred to as the ‘establishment period’.

During the establishment period CTER will be able to exercise functions relating to the transition of governance and oversight from HEFCW, such as appointing staff and creating committees. At this stage, HEFCW will retain responsibility for funding and regulating higher education and the Welsh Government will retain responsibility for further education and sixth forms, apprenticeships, and adult learning.

The Welsh Government is expected to launch a number of consultations over the autumn and into 2024. This includes consulting on: the register of tertiary education providers; funding for further education; and, the lifelong learning duty.

The Welsh Government will also publish a statement of priorities before the end of this year, which the Minister says will “shape [CTER’s] first period of activity”.

The next seven months will be an important period for CTER’s establishment leading up to becoming operational in April 2024 and HEFCW dissolving. The Senedd will continue to closely monitor and scrutinise the establishment of CTER.

Article by Lucy Morgan, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament