More than 135,000 students are enrolled at our eight universities and 14 further-education colleges and institutions. They include representatives of more than 170 countries, attracted by a culture of excellence in both teaching and research.
Universities in Wales offer an extraordinary range of specialisms. Cardiff University's journalism school is the oldest in the UK, and alumni in newsrooms from Los Angeles to Sydney are proud to use the Twitter hashtag '#CardiffTrained'.
Welsh research breakthroughs have a national, global and even interplanetary impact. For example, Bangor University has been pioneering research into Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to treat depression, saving the NHS time and money. Meanwhile, the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre at Swansea University aims to transform buildings into mini-power stations that can generate and store their own solar energy, with any surplus released back into the national grid.
Welsh research breakthroughs have a national, global and even interplanetary impact."
Over at Aberystwyth University, the Computer Science Space Robotics Research Group has been helping in the search for life on Mars. When the ExoMars 2020 Rover touches down to begin its exploration of the Red Planet, it will contain technology developed and calibrated in Wales.
Educating for the 21st century
Wales' schools and colleges are also taking up the challenge of educating for the 21st century. They have great freedom to innovate and be different. Education policy in Wales is devolved, with the Welsh Parliament responsible for making the applicable laws. It means that the Welsh education system is distinct from those in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
One big difference is the opportunity to speak Welsh in schools. Playgroups and nurseries help infants learn the language through immersion, and all pupils are taught Welsh up to the age of 16. An increasing number of parents choose a Welsh-medium education for their children even if they’re not fluent speakers themselves. Almost a quarter of all primary-age pupils are now taught in Welsh-medium schools.
Wales is a country famous for poetry and song, and creativity is at the heart of education. There’s a flourishing arts culture, from school orchestras and grassroots drama groups to prestigious companies such as the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, established in 1945 and the first of its kind in the world. Eisteddfodau – Welsh-language culture festivals – are regularly held in many schools, encouraging pupils to perform and share songs, poems, and plays.
We may have plenty of castles in Wales, but we don’t have ivory towers. Education is something to be cherished both for its own sake and for its benefits to society."
It’s the same story with sport. Schools encourage wide participation, and nurture excellence when they find it – sometimes with spectacular success. It’s impossible not to mention Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, alma mater of Wales and Real Madrid footballer Gareth Bale, Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, and Wales and British Lions rugby captain Sam Warburton.
Wales has a proud educational heritage. Inscribed on the foundation stone of Cardiff Central Library is a simple maxim: 'Libraries gave us power'. It’s the opening line of the Manic Street Preachers' song A Design for Life, and an affirmation that we're a nation where education matters to everyone.
No less a figure than Aneurin Bevan, father of the NHS, credited the library at Tredegar Workmen’s Institute with his early education. And when a university college was first planned in Bangor, it was quickly funded by voluntary contributions from local people, including farmers and quarrymen.
We may have plenty of castles in Wales, but we don’t have ivory towers. Education is something to be cherished both for its own sake and for its benefits to society.