Ten years since it was founded, the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol’s legacy in the higher education sector is evident, and in a celebration in the Senedd today (10 May) the organisation is declaring its intention to ensure equal success in the post-16 sector.
At the turn of the century, it was hit or miss if a student was able to follow a course through the medium of Welsh so when the Coleg was established in 2011 the aim was to ensure an increase in the number of university subjects available in Welsh. Following a decade of planning and investment, it is now possible to study part of a degree course through the medium of Welsh in 33 out of 37 main subject groups, 1,135 staff in universities are able to teach through the medium of Welsh and more than 1,900 students have received undergraduate scholarships to study through the medium of Welsh.
In 2010/11, 3,005 full time students were studying at least some of their higher education course through the medium of Welsh. By 2019/20, this had risen to 4,740.
According to Dr Ioan Matthews, Chief Exeucitve of the Coleg: “Since establishing the Coleg in 2011, attitudes have changed and the landscape has changed. Welsh medium education in universities is now recognised as something that is completely acceptable and to be welcomed and tens of thousands of students have benefited from the provision that has been developed since the Coleg was established. This has prepared the ground for the Coleg to step in to the post-16 field, and at the beginning of a new decade, this is one of our main priorities.”
University education was the Coleg’s main focus in the early years, but since 2019, the Coleg also has responsibility for developing Welsh medium and bilingual provision in further education colleges and in the apprenticeships sector. For the first time this year the Coleg was responsible for funding 20 new lecturing roles in further education colleges, two in each of the ten colleges. Since beginning to work in the post-16 sector, more than ten thousand learners and apprentices have already benefited from the Coleg’s projects.
To mark the Coleg’s tenth anniversary, a reception will be held at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay today (10 May) in the company of the Education and Welsh Language Minister, Jeremy Miles MS. Speaking ahead of the event, the Minister said: “The Coleg’s work in the further, higher and apprenticeships sectors makes an extremely important contribution to the Government’s aim of increasing opportunities to use the Welsh language. Workers in a variety of sectors now have the skills and confidence to work through the medium of Welsh thanks to the Coleg’s work over the last decade.”
During the event, there will be an opportunity to remember the significant contribution of the Coleg’s former-Chair, Gareth Pierce, who died suddenly last year. Dr Ioan Matthews will announce that the Coleg is planning to launch a special Apprenticeships Award in memory of Gareth.
Ifan Phillips from Crymych, who is an Electrical Installations apprentice in Pembrokeshire College said: “Studying part of my course in Welsh has enabled me to study in my mother tounge, a language I am more comfortable speaking, and I’ve also improved my Welsh and this has helped me to communicate with customers on a professional level. Whether you’re studying for a PhD in university through the medium of Welsh or following an apprenticeship, the language belongs to us all.”
As well as this, a booklet and video have been produced which tell the story of the establishment of the Coleg, the successes so far and its plans for the future, and includes stories from learners, students, practitioners and lecturers who have been part of and have benefited from the Coleg’s work.
At the beginning of the century, the poet, author and scriptwriter, Catrin Dafydd, was a student at Aberystwyth University and was President of UMCA, the university’s Welsh Students’ Union during 2003 and 2004. She was one of the leaders of the campaign to establish the Coleg and is now one of its Honorary Fellows. Catrin said: “We weren’t operating in isolation, it was a constant flow of voices declaring that the situation as it was wasn’t right. In terms of Aberystwyth, it was becoming increasingly clear that there was a desire by students to study more through the medium of Welsh. It then became clear that students in other universities were sympathetic and there was very little opposition from other students. Even though as a generation we weren’t on the whole as political as the students of the eighties, I think we could see that through devolution it was possible to see the birth of national structures in our time.”
Dr Alwena Morgan is a Welsh speaking lecturer in Biomedics in the Medical School at Swansea University, and although she wasn’t able to study the Sciences through the medium of Welsh when she was a student in 2005, she has benefited from the existence of the Coleg and now teaches the next generation of bilingual scientists: “I had never imagined a career where I would be able to combine Science and the Welsh language. I feel so pleased that I’ve been able to develop my Welsh, especially after I lost it more or less after going to university. As a Welsh medium lecturer, I feel so lucky that I have got this job which means a new generation of scientists will be able to work totally bilingually, and then another generation after them.”
According to Emily Pemberton from Grangetown, Cardiff, an International Relations student in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University, who is studying part of her course through the medium of Welsh: “I’m so grateful to my mum for deciding to send me to a Welsh medium school – this was a very different decision to make at the time in the community where I was brought up. It was a natural step then for me to continue with my Welsh education in university, and because of that I’ve had a wide range of experiences, in university and beyond, including being part of S4C programmes such as Pawb a’i Farn and Terfysg yn y Bae.
“I’ve got to an age now where I’ve realised that almost everything I do is through the medium of Welsh – I work in Welsh, I socialise in Welsh and now I’m studying in Welsh. It’s clear that my path over recent years would have been very different if I didn’t speak Welsh. I’m looking forward to the future and the ability to speak Welsh makes me feel really positive to live my life bilingually and to keep proving that anything is possible through speaking Welsh.”
Looking to the future, the Coleg plans to continue with the work of attracting even more students to study a part of their degree course through the medium of Welsh, increasing its investment in Welsh provision in the post-16 sector, as well as supporting the Government to ensure that enough teachers with the right Welsh language skills are training to teach in our primary and secondary schools. Through this, the Coleg will make a significant contribution to the Welsh Government’s target of creating a million Welsh speakers and doubling the daily use of Welsh by 2050.
Dr Matthews added: “If students venture intothe world of work having completed their further education course, apprenticeship or degree through the medium of Welsh or bilingually, then the hope is that they will stay in their communities ensuring bilingual jobs, raising a bilingual family locally, becoming a part of the communituy ensuring the Welsh language remains a living language on a professional and social level. So much has been achieved during the Coleg’s first decade, but there are certainly no plans to rest on our laurels - the Coleg’s role over the next decade is to strengthen and reinforce what it has begun – the journey continues!”