Pawb a'i Farn

As someone who dreads doing live TV but enjoys the experience afterwards, it could be argued that there I suffer from some strain of delayed media masochism.

I experienced that feeling again last night when I was honoured to be a panellist on Pawb a’i Farn.

For those of you who have never appeared on a live show, it can be a daunting experience but one that is highly enjoyable. At the beginning, you are nervously thinking how on earth am I going to be able to last an hour but, by the end, it has become thoroughly enjoyable and the time has, actually, flown by.

The other guests on the show last night were Rhodri Morgan, Dafydd Wigley and Lord Roger Roberts.

To say that Rhodri and I have never seen eye to eye would be an understatement, but no-one can doubt that he has left an indelible impression on Welsh politics.

Probably only Dafydd Wigley – who retired from day-to-day political life in 2003 – could be said to be in the same league and when Rhodri leaves in September, he will undoubtedly leave a large hole in Welsh political life.

Every time, I have met Rhodri in the past, he was always larger than life, had a sparkling wit and would dominate any conversation or room he was in. However, it would clear that the last few years - and the serious heart problems of the summer of 2007 - have begun to take their toll.

To me, he seemed smaller, more diminished and the sparkle was gone. Certainly, the old Rhodri wouldn’t have just come out with stock answers to the questions but would have gone on the attack, especially against the Conservatives. Last night he didn’t, and just seemed tired and ready to retire there and then. Perhaps I just caught him on a bad night but I don't think so, and I am just surprised that no-one else has mentioned this before as it has enormous implications for the leadership of this country at a time when we are going through the worst recession in living memory.

The show was so hectic that one question couldn’t be asked, namely that on the introduction of student fees. However, the young people on the programme were so insistent about the issue that Dewi Llwyd asked all of us to stay on for a further twenty minutes to debate the issue. I am not too sure whether it was recorded but as everyone visibly relaxed after the programme went off air, it was a more enjoyable debate.

My view is quite clear on the subject.

This should never have happened and rather than focusing specifically on how to cut support to students to make up the funding gap in Wales, the Jones review should have examined the wider benefits of free tuition fees to the economy of Wales.

When we keep hearing that we need to create a knowledge-based economy that is based on higher level skills, is this the way forward?

We know there is a £61 million gap in university spending between England and Wales, a gap that the Assembly Government has chosen not to make good.

Instead, they will be taking money away from students to try and make up this difference. It is easy to try and defend the situation and I am surprised how many politicians, including Dafydd Wigley last night, were ready to say that this was necessary.

Surely this is a matter of priorities for the Governemnt. If it believes that education is critical to the future of this nation and that we want to create a small clever country, is this the way forward?

In Scandinavia, which has some of the most competitive small nations in the World, there are no tuition fees paid by students because policymakers in Sweden and Finland have realised that without a highly educated workforce, you cannot create a strong knowledge-based economy.

The Assembly Government currently spends well over a quarter of a billion pounds annually on business support in Wales. Yet, despite having over 1200 civil servants in the Department of Economy administering this money, we remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the UK prosperity league table.

A more radical Assembly Government would have examined whether this money would have been better spent on addressing the higher education finance gap between England and Wales. Instead, it set up a review that, because of its myopic terms of reference, could only come up with one conclusion.

Unfortunately, it is a conclusion that will do little to help the long term economic prospects of this nation and by aping the actions of English educationalists, has diminished devolution within this country.

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