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Welsh university sector in good health

The Western Mail reports that data published by the Higher Education Council for Wales has painted a largely positive picture, despite a challenging financial climate:

Together, Welsh universities attracted income worth £1.273bn in 2012-13, which was almost identical to the £1.274 billion brought in a year earlier before the introduction of a controversial new fees regime. Total income in 2010-11 stood at a mere £1.244bn.

A change in the way higher education is funded sees students themselves offset reductions to core university budgets by paying up to £9,000 for their courses.

Analysis of Hefcw’s figures for 2012-13 shows the new University of South Wales had generated £192m income, Bangor University £135m, Cardiff University £436m and Swansea University £181m – all up on that generated in 2011-12.

Other institutions were down marginally, although only two campus-based universities – Bangor (1.8% of total income) and Glyndwr (9%) – ran up deficits on continuing operations.

According to Hefcw, Cardiff Metropolitan University was most reliant on home and EU fees – with 50% of its total income coming from non-international student enrolments.

The University of Wales, Trinity Saint David was next in line, with 47% of its total income coming from home and EU students, while Cardiff University recorded the lowest share of just 21%.

The University of South Wales (60%) and Glyndwr (61%) reported the highest staffing costs – academic and aministrative – as a percentage of their total income, although both institutions have since taken steps to reduce their number of employees.

Figures show total university staffing costs are on the rise in Wales, with £731m spent in 2012-13, £720m dished out in 2011-12 and just £703m spent a year earlier in 2010-11.

Cardiff University had the highest net assets excluding pension liability (£463m) from the University of South Wales, whose figures ballooned from £126m in 2011-12 to £209m in 2012-13 as a result of merger.

The University of Glamorgan and University of Wales, Newport came together officially in April last year, albeit they submitted a single set of financial statements to Hefcw for the year ending July 31, 2013.

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London-centric arts

The Western Mail reports on comments by David Anderson, the director general of National Museums Wales who has used a blog post to launch an outspoken attack on the coverage of the arts by UK broadcasters, accusing them of a London bias that largely ignores the rest of the UK.

Mr Anderson argues that Wales does not get its fair share of UK funding for the arts,nor does it have the coverage from the UK media that its quality deserves:

He writes: “This lack of recognition and publicity from the UK print and broadcasting media – with the credibility that comes with it – in turn makes it still harder for us to attract the private funding that we need so badly to invest in our programmes and to provide match funding for Lottery bids.

Many of the key decisions that determine profile for the arts are made by publicly funded organisations based in London, such as the BBC and Visit Britain, which appear to have little knowledge or understanding of what is happening in the rest of the UK, and especially the devolved nations.”

Mr Anderson argues that funding of the arts, employment in the arts, public access to and participation in the arts, and control of the arts are “scandalously unequal”, with 71% of funding for the arts in the whole of the UK from trusts and foundations, corporate donors and private individuals going to London institutions. The remaining 29% has to be shared out between all the other nations and regions.

He writes: “We are in the second decade of the 21st century, but we still retain the highly centralised, 19th century, semi-colonial model that the arts should be concentrated in London, and that funding London is synonymous with serving the English regions and the nations of the UK. For Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this undermines the principle, embedded in law, that culture is a devolved responsibility. It is a constitutional tension that remains unresolved.

“All the evidence shows that concentration of power and funding in London is, in policy terms, a failure.

“Despite investment of over £1bn annually of public and private funds in arts institutions in just three boroughs in Central London (Westminster, Southwark and Kensington and Chelsea), public participation levels in the arts in London are slightly lower than those across England as a whole.”

Acknowledging that the BBC is a “hugely important part of the arts ecosystem in Wales” and that its investment in the Roath Lock drama studios in Cardiff has given a massive boost to the creative economy, Mr Anderson accuses the broadcaster of a “lack of {geographical} impartiality” in its coverage.

He poses the question, “Why does the Tate’s Turner Prize – widely perceived in the contemporary art world to be tired and outdated – continue to get blanket coverage on Network BBC, when the critically more highly regarded Artes Mundi Prize in Wales has never in 12 years had any Network coverage?

“Research by the BBC itself shows that this lack of impartiality in its coverage of the arts in the nations and regions of the UK is the norm rather than the exception.

“{BBC director general} Tony Hall, in a recent speech at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff, invited his audience to imagine Wales without the BBC.

“It is a fair challenge, but we existed long before the BBC with our languages and cultural identities.

“Some of us in Wales might ask him, in turn, to imagine a BBC that is not dominated by a London-centric perception of the world, and that better reflects the diversity of our nation’s arts and cultures, our values and our debates.

“Without us – we who are outside London – not just the BBC but democracy itself will suffer, if we continue down the road we are on.”

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Nearly 20,000 patients discharged in middle of the night

There needs to be an investigation into why nearly 20,000 patients in Wales have been discharged in the middle of the night.

Research by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, via the Freedom of Information Act, shows that 19,702 patients have been discharged between 11pm and 6am since 2012.

The party discovered that not a single Health Board in Wales records the reasons why patients have been discharged. It is also currently not mandatory for Health Boards to track the leaving time of patients and therefore many have admitted that their data is not necessarily ‘complete or accurate’. Cardiff and Vale UHB was the only health board to withhold the information.

The figures collated are for inpatients only. “Inpatient” means that the procedure requires the patient to be admitted to the hospital, primarily so that he or she can be closely monitored during the procedure and afterwards, during recovery.

It is shocking that nearly 20,000 patients were discharged in the middle of the night. The Welsh Labour Government needs to get to the bottom about why these figures are so startlingly high.

While these figures are just the raw data, behind each of these stats there is a personal story. I want to know why it’s considered reasonable for thousands of people to be leaving hospital at such anti-social hours. I am particularly worried that many of these patients could be elderly or vulnerable.

There are sometimes valid reasons for patients to be released from hospitals in the middle of the night. However these figures are exceptionally high and I am concerned that the well-known pressure on beds could be leading to people being discharged at inappropriate times.

The current system for collating this important data isn’t fit for purpose. Hospitals aren’t properly recording why and when patients are being discharged. This is potentially a major problem that is slipping under the radar. We are calling on the Welsh Labour Government to ensure this data is recorded accurately and thoroughly so we can see the extent of the problem.

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Education test fiasco highlights Welsh Government’s failure to learn

News that teaching unions have strongly criticised the latest literacy and numeracy tests in Wales are harsh words indeed from the teaching unions but they reflect a failure by the Welsh Government to learn from previous mistakes.

I am certain that if the Education Minister or his officials had asked the teachers themselves, they would have been told that this system needed to be changed.

The fact that the president of the National Association of Head Teachers has been moved to call this a “complete and utter shambles” shows just how strongly school leaders feel about the situation and it does not give me confidence that the Minister has been working on these tests in a collaborative way.

With only two days to go until the end of term, and with the test results arriving back in schools just this week, for a Welsh Government spokesperson to say that schools have “more than enough time” to get those results out to parents shows how out of touch the Welsh Government is with the education workforce.

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Cancer waiting time target not met for 6 years

The latest set of cancer waiting times are a “disgrace”, showing a further reduction in the percentage of urgent suspected cancer patients being treated within the 62 day target.

New figures for May show that only 88.5% of newly-diagnosed urgent suspected cancer patients started their treatment within 62 days. This is down from 89.7% in April 2014.

The Welsh Government’s target of 95% of urgent suspected cancer patients starting treatment in the 62 day window has not been met since June 2008, six years ago.

The fact that the Welsh Labour Government’s cancer waiting time target hasn’t been met for 6 years now is a disgrace. Labour’s Health Minister pledged earlier this year that this target would be met, yet things are going backwards under his watch.

Being diagnosed with cancer can be terrifying for patients and their families. It’s completely unacceptable that many are being forced to wait over two months until they start their treatment, adding to the anxiety and fear that they’ll be facing.

I wish I could say this was the extent of the problems in our health service, but the simple fact is that the Welsh Labour Government constantly fail to deliver for Wales.

Cancer waiting times not met in 6 years. A&E waiting time targets never met. The worst ambulance response times in the whole of the UK. Welsh Labour’s dire record on our NHS is plain for all to see. The people of Wales deserve better than Welsh Labour’s NHS.

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Continued fall in Welsh unemployment welcome

I welcome the drop in unemployment of 6000 people across Wales.

This is yet more good news for Wales and the UK. It is showing that the UK Government is on the right track in repairing Britain’s economy and equipping it for the future. Because of the work of the Liberal Democrats in Government, our economy is one of the fastest-growing in the developed world. However, we recognise that there is still a long way to go.

Hopefully the stronger economy will help young people find sustainable and meaningful employment, especially those graduating this month.

Last week we learnt that the Welsh Auditor General has serious concerns about the Welsh Labour Government’s approach to helping 19-24 year olds gain employment. The Welsh Government needs to be ambitious in tackling the problem of youth unemployment once and for all.

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