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Research Councils (University Funding)

Volume 507: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2010

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the allocation of funding by the research councils to universities in Wales. (321809)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had a number of discussions about how best to strengthen Wales’s research capacity. We also have regular discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about the issue, because we recognise that it is vitally important.

I thank the Minister for meeting me earlier this week to discuss Aberystwyth university. Will he also note that, according to the most recent report by the Welsh Affairs Committee,

“the proposal to concentrate research funds appears likely further to limit the opportunities”

for Welsh universities

“to maintain and develop their research capabilities”?

That view will resonate strongly with my constituents in Aberystwyth, where 70 people face the prospect of job losses. Yes, money should follow excellence, but it should also follow the excellence of the future.

The hon. Gentleman and I had a very useful discussion on Monday, in which we addressed the situation in Aberystwyth, in particular with regard to IBERS—the institute of biological, environmental and rural sciences. We fully recognise the excellent work that is done there; I have visited it myself and have seen at first hand the exemplary research that is conducted. Any restructuring is, however, a matter for Aberystwyth university; any restructuring that has been taking place is not a result of any reduction in research council funding, and that support will continue.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the creation of the new Trinity St. David university, based in my constituency, which will act as a strategic hub in the regional framework, linking with Swansea Metropolitan university, Coleg Sir Gâr and Pembrokeshire college, and thereby creating a dynamic learning and skills powerhouse for post-16 education in south-west Wales? Also, is this not one of the key developments that could be put at risk by—

The answer to that last question is, of course, yes. It is vitally important that we continue to invest strategically to make sure that we develop the capacity of our people to the full. As we come out of the current recession and look to the future, it is essential that we invest in higher education and research and development, and that is happening through partnership between this Government and the Welsh Assembly.

It seems that the Minister is content with a situation whereby Welsh universities—Bangor, Aberystwyth and the rest—are short-changed by £41 million in research money per year, as identified in the Welsh Affairs Committee report on cross-border public services. Is this not yet another case of throwing millions of pounds at people who already have, and ça ne fait rien for the rest?

Well, let us be clear that investment in higher and further education—and education generally—in Wales is gathering momentum and continuing apace. It is extremely important that that happens, because we recognise that investment in skills, education and research and development is the bedrock on which our recovery must be based. That is why public expenditure is so important. That is what we believe in; sadly, Conservative Members do not.