Can We Learn the Lessons of a Year in Which Education Often Hit the Headlines Because of Division Rather Than Success? Scandal, Scrutiny and Speculation Are Not Words Normally Associated with the Wonderful World of Education. but They Sum Up What Has Been Another Whirlwind Year for Wales' Most Talked about Sector. Education Correspondent Gareth Evans Looks Back on 2011 and What It Meant for Our Schools, Colleges and Universities
Byline: Gareth Evans
* JANUARY * There are fears that thousands of Welsh students will miss out on a place at university after an unprecedented rise in applications. University admissions service, Ucas, receives a record 344,064 applications from across the UK. It comes as the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (Uwic) announces plans to close four undergraduate courses.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency finds universities in Wales produce fewer first and upper second-class degrees than any other home nation. Just over half (58%) of first degree qualifications awarded in 2010 were of the highest two grades. * Education watchdog Estyn warns that children in Wales are falling further behind their European counterparts. In her first annual report, chief inspector Ann Keane says many pupils' literacy and numeracy levels are not being developed fully.
* FEBRUARY * Education Minister Leighton Andrews announces a radical five-year plan to improve standards in Welsh schools. The categorisation of schools into grades is among 20 actions unveiled following Wales' dismal Pisa results. Teaching union NASUWT calls the shake-up "draconian".
College representative body ColegauCymru welcomes a three-year funding plan to stabilise post-16 education. Colleges will see an overall reduction of 1.39% from September - but an increase of 2.5% in 2012-13 and a further 1% the following year.
Plans to create a Welsh "super university" with the merger of three existing institutions are hatched. Going forward, Swansea Metropolitan, Trinity Saint David and Uwic will be known as the University of Wales. Amid mounting pressure to collaborate, Newport says it will consider merging with an English institution.
* MARCH * A group of leading academics says Welsh universities have been confined to the "slow lane" with a decade of underfunding. Wales' Learned Society condemns the "perilous" financial state of higher education and points to a cumulative funding gap of more than pounds 360m between Wales and England in the 10 years from 2000-09.
A study compiled by Oxford Economics reveals foreign students pump almost a quarter of a billion pounds into the Welsh economy every year. It estimates their presence in Wales adds more than 9,000 jobs and pounds 237m to the nation's gross domestic product. It comes as the Mc-Cormick Review proposes a new arm's-length body to administer higher education funding.
* Universities in Wales are told they must do more with less after being handed their lowest budget allocation for six years. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw) sees its core budget slashed by 8.5% from pounds 453m in 2010-11 to pounds 388m in 2011-12. Swansea Met is the only campus-based institution to receive a rise.
* APRIL * Feathers are ruffled as Welsh Labour's Education Minister is likened to his Tory counterpart in Westminster. Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, says there are "frightening similarities" between Leighton Andrews and Michael Gove. Ms Keates says Mr Andrews uses the same rhetoric and convergence of policies as his Conservative equivalent.
The prospect of a mass walkout by teachers moves a step closer with a decision by education union ATL to ballot members over planned pension changes. Teachers believe proposals put forward by the Westminster Government would leave school staff paying more and receiving less.
A storm erupts over the number of students being snubbed by Oxford and Cambridge following a Western Mail investigation.
News that only 142 Welsh candidates were offered places last academic year prompts concerns of a growing educational divide.
MA* Aberystwyth University becomes the first in Wales to announce plans to treble tuition fees. Vice-chancellor Professor Noel Lloyd says its desire to charge pounds 9,000 a year underlined a commitment to widening opportunities for students. …