(Yn Gymraeg)

A large part of my job is contributing to Welsh medium higher education at the School of Mathematics. Sometimes it’s difficult to justify the reasons for doing this, and I feel that many people have many differing opinions on why this is provided. On this page I outline my personal perspective on Welsh medium higher education. This is my opinion only.

The aim here is to map what we do to defintie School goals, and map those goals to good reasons for having Welsh medium education, more than simply for its own sake, or due to ideologies. Therefore we can justify every activity or idea we have, to ourselves, to our colleagues, and to out students, and to try and increase understanding about our work.

Reasons for Welsh medium higher education

The document Cymraeg 20501 was published by the Welsh Government in 2017. The document outlines the government’s strategy for stimulating and supporting the Welsh language, by working towards a target of having a million Welsh speakers by the year 2050. Even though this target is arbitrary, and some might see it as pointless or artificial, the activities and interventions that occur along the way in order to reach this target will improve the experiences of Welsh speakers and Welsh services, in addition to enriching Welsh culture.

The strategy discusses three broad themes: increasing the number of Welsh speakers, increasing the use of the language, and creating favourable conditions for the language to thrive. The second theme encompasses increasing the use of Welsh in the workplace, and talks of the lack of post-16 teachers who speak Welsh. The last theme concerns research, community, and technology. The document notes where particular sectors can contribute, and it does mention the role of higher education. I believe we can think of a number of the issues listed in this document (increasing the use of Welsh in the workplace, solving the lack of Welsh speaking teachers, and improve Welsh technologies) as symptoms of the same problem: that we need to increase proficiency in technical language in Welsh.

These aims are discussed further in the Welsh government’s planning strategies. The government’s education planning document2 notes higher education’s role in supplying a teaching workforce with relevant language skills, and in developing research into and concerning the Welsh language and Welsh language education. Our role in producing workers with mathematical, computational, and research skills, in Welsh, is emphasised in the government’s technology planning document3. The document notes a number of fields where there is a need for new Welsh language technologies that links directly to our field of mathematics, including machine learning and artificial intelligence for the Welsh language, coding resources, and text-to-speech technologies for Welsh.

In addition to all this, the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol was established in 2011 (from the One Wales Delivery Plan4), with the aim of ensuring every student in Wales has the right to Welsh medium higher education of the highest quality5. They also note that the language of higher education needs to reflect the language of the rest of the education system in Wales, that is no student should have a disadvantage because of the language of their previous education (in either direction: Welsh to English, or English to Welsh).

From these I have listed, in no particular order, reasons I believe are applicable to us as a School on why we need Welsh medium higher education:

  1. Increasing proficiency in technical language in Welsh,
  2. Supply the lack of post-16 teachers that speak Welsh,
  3. Ensure that children don't lose the Welsh language after leaving school,
  4. Increase the use of Welsh in the workplace,
  5. Create or contribute to Welsh language communities,
  6. Produce skilled workers that can build Welsh language digital infrastructure,
  7. Produce skilled workers that can contribute to Welsh language research,
  8. Ensure every student had the right to Welsh medium higher education,
  9. Ensure students have no disadvantage due to the language of any aspect of their education.

I feel that we have been over-concentrating on reasons H and I, which put the students themselves as the focus of the campaign for Welsh medium higher education. But if students do not feel there are disadvantages to studying in English (or even that there is an advantage to studying in English), and don’t want to exercise their right to study in Welsh, then the campaign can be seen as pointless, and that a lot of resources are given to the needs or whims of students that might not exist. However we should also be thinking of our bilingual graduates’ place in the nation, which give us a need to meet targets on numbers of students studying in Welsh, beyond just the sustainability of the provision.

Some other reasons that are reported for studying through the medium of Welsh are smaller class sizes, extra money, and better relationships with staff6. These are true: there are scholarships available to students studying a certain amount of credits in Welsh, Welsh tutorial classes are smaller, and usually it’s the same staff taking most tutorials and are also personal tutors to the students, so relationships can strengthen. But these are side-effects or something greater, and in my opinion are not strong enough reasons for the provision or to attract students. In addition by working towards developing the provision, these advantages could disappear, for example by working to get more students taking Welsh modules class sizes will increase.

Even more importantly I feel we are disadvantaging ourselves by forgetting about many of these overarching reasons, and by failing to communicate these reasons to our students. We don’t want our students to think they are studying Welsh modules because they are not skilled enough to do them in English. We also don’t want them to think that other people think this about them (for example non-Welsh speaking students and staff). Therefore to avoid this it is important to communicate all the reasons on the above list to everyone, Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speaking staff and students.

I summarise this with the manta ‘‘not because they can’t do it in English, but because they have the potential to do it in Welsh’’.

Aims, targets, and problems

As a School we provide Welsh medium education in order to work towards the overarching national goals, some appropriate ones were listed in the previous section. Our work directly feeds into these these. In order for us to direct our efforts correctly we have School targets, that can map to these reasons.

Our own targets should reflect the School of Mathematics’ potential to contribute to the national goals and reasons for why we provide Welsh medium higher education. They also need to contribute to solving any barriers towards reaching these goals. Therefore I’ll list some barriers I think have the potential to hold students back:

  1. There may be too much administrative effort for our students. For example by asking for bilingual exam papers early, booking a Welsh appointment at the mathematics support service, and generally understanding the overall Welsh provision at the School;
  2. Studying in Welsh might be, or seen to be, more difficult than studying in English for a number of reasons:
    1. a smaller community, so less students to work with or ask for help,
    2. level of Welsh isn't as good as their English, or Welsh resources are more difficult to read,
    3. unfamiliar with the terminology or it doesn't come naturally,
    4. lack of Welsh language resources that are not directly connected to a module, for example textbooks, online video tutorials, academic journal articles, wikipedia articles, and so on,
  3. Welsh provision can seem supplementary or to one side of the English provision, which is easy to forget about;
  4. There is no official / obvious recognition that they have followed a Welsh medium course, so any extra effort can seem pointless;
  5. Lack of motivation to partake in Welsh education, prehaps connected to a lack of understanding about why we offer Welsh education;
  6. Lack of ownership and pride over the provision, can be seen as something that happens to the students and not something they are doing themselves.

Due to these problems, and the overarching reasons given in the first section, I suggest a number of targets, in addition to those set by the Coleg, that will work towards these problems and also enrich our current students’ experiences.

Specific targets set by the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol:

  1. Provide 40 credits per year through the medium of Welsh
    This target feeds into reasons A, B, C, F, G, H and I, by ensuring that students have a choice of language, and that we offer technical skills bilingually.
  2. An average of 10 students each year studying Welsh modules
    This target feeds into reasons A-G, by ensuring we are producing enough graduates with bilingual technical skills. It also ensures that the provision is sustainable.
  3. Three members of staff who contribute to Welsh medium education
    This target feeds into reasons D, E and I, by ensuring we offer a diverse range of research interests, personalities and teaching methods, and by expanding the community of Welsh speakers in the department.

I suggest eight further targets that originate from the potential problems above. These additional targets are secondary to the three set by the Coleg, and their main purpose for having them is to determine the direction of the development of the provision, to help generate ideas, and to justify our work.

Additional suggested targets:

  1. Improve proficiency in mathematical language
    In essence this is the main reason for providing Welsh medium higher education, and it's easy to forget by only thinking of targets i, ii and iii. This target feeds into reasons A, B, F and G by producing graduates with the appropriate linguistic skills; while also trying to solve problems b2 and b3, by easing the experiences of students studying in Welsh.
  2. Communicate reasons better
    This target tries to solve problems e, f and maybe c, by motivating students to study in Welsh. It will also increase transparency in our work, maybe encouraging students to take part in our work (for example by working on projects and developing resources), and it could also strengthen relationships between students and staff.
  3. Develop and improve external resources
    This target feeds into reasons A, F, G and I; while also trying to solve problems b2 and b4. Internal resources, for example lecture notes, are included in target i, but there is a very important place in a student's education for websites, textbooks, blogs, academic articles, and so on, when doing research projects and individual studies. This will also contribute towards a Welsh atmosphere while studying.
  4. Ease students' administrative work
    This target feeds into reason I; and tries to solve problems a and c. The main thing to think about here is ensuring students receive bilingual exam papers as default, and ensures that the language is central to their studies.
  5. Develop a Welsh community within the School
    This target feeds into reasons C, D and E; and tries to solve problems b1and c.
  6. Develop the School's place withing the Welsh community
    This target feeds into reason E. It could also contribute to achieving target ii, by raising awareness of the provision and attracting students.
  7. Opportunities to give feedback on the provision
    This target feeds into reason E; and tries to solve problems c, e and f. It will also enable us to continue to improve our provision as the environment and the problems we face change with time.
  8. Recognition that students have followed a Welsh medium course
    Apart from the list of modules a student has completed, or receipt of a Coleg Cymraeg grant, there is no evidence that a student has followed a bilingual course. This target feeds into reasons A, B, F and G by giving proof to the public and to employers that our students have developed their skills through the medium of Welsh. It also tries to solve problems d, e and f my providing a concrete myopic reason for students to study in Welsh.

This outlines my beliefs on Welsh medium higher education. I hope it shows my enthusiasm doesn’t stem from nationalist ideology, but it is to align with government policies and to provide benefits to the students.

  1. Welsh Government. Cymraeg 2050: Welsh language strategy, 2017. 

  2. Welsh Government. Welsh in education: Action plan 2017-2021. 2017. 

  3. Welsh Government. Welsh language technology action plan. 2018. 

  4. Welsh Assembly Government. One Wales delivery plan 2007-2011, 2007. 

  5. Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. Strategic plan 2014/15-2016/17, 2014. 

  6. Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. Astudio drwy gyfrwng y gymraeg, 2019.