Susana Galván Hernández, Executive Director of Taith has written about Taith, Wales’ new international learning exchange programme. Susana has shared her thoughts on the importance of a student mobility scheme like Taith and the journey it has taken so far. Universities Scotland want to see the Scottish Government introduce a two-way student mobility scheme very similar nature to Taith.
Susana presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on universities and colleges on 19 January to raise awareness of the benefits of both inward and outward mobility opportunities for students.
Taith – One Year On
In March 2021, the Welsh Government announced a commitment of a £65 million investment towards an international learning and exchange programme for Wales, over a period of four years (2022-2026), in an effort to continue and grow the opportunities that flowed from Erasmus+, not just in Europe but further afield.
The ambition was clear: to build an inclusive programme – in collaboration with partners and learners across Wales – which offered life-changing opportunities to travel and learn for all learners and staff in every part of Wales, and in every type of education setting: Adult Education, Further Education, Vocational Education and Training, Higher Education, Schools and Youth. At the same time, the programme should also enable organisations in Wales to invite international partners and learners to do the same here in Wales.
Fast forward to February 2022, and the Taith programme (“taith” means “journey” in Welsh) became a reality and was officially launched, under the tagline “Take Wales to the World, and Bring the World to Wales”.
As it happens, that same week when the programme was launched, I arrived in Cardiff from Johannesburg with my family after a three-year overseas posting with my previous employer (the British Council), to take over the new role as the Executive Director of this new and exciting programme, and start a new chapter of our lives in Wales.
As we approach our first-year anniversary, it is a good time to reflect on the journey so far…
… and what a journey it has been!
Looking back, the first year of Taith was one of setting-up (our team, our processes, our systems, our governance…), of delivery (we had an unmovable target of first round of mobility projects starting in September 2022!), but also of learning and – perhaps more unexpectedly – of discovery. I say discovery because our first year was not just about setting up an international mobility and exchange agency for Wales (as important as that is!). At a more existential level perhaps, it was also about discovering our voice and place as a brand new agency which is unashamedly Welsh in its identity and unashamedly internationalist in its outlook. An agency which is credible in its own right, not just within the context and landscape in Wales, but beyond its borders. An agency which tells the world that Wales is an ambitious, outward-looking and welcoming nation, proud of its heritage, language and culture, and one which values diversity, international connections and exchanges. An agency which strives to make these opportunities accessible and available to as many people and organisations as possible.
The launch of Taith in February last year was an exciting and momentous occasion. It was received with much interest, anticipation and expectation. Wales was proud and we, as a team (it was a much smaller team then), were proud too.
But now we had a job to deliver!
Strong demand for the first phase
And so, one month after the launch, in March 2022, we opened our first Taith funding call for Pathway 1 (mobility of participants). I remember how, once the funding call went live, we would be checking our online system literally every five minutes to see if any applications had come in, and all of us shouting and clapping when the first one arrived. It felt like Taith had scored its first goal!
We were thrilled with the outcomes of that first funding call: 51 successful projects benefitting over 100 organisations across Wales from all the eligible sectors and which, combined, will be delivering over 6,000 mobilities of staff and learners from Wales and into Wales, in partnership with over 95 countries, territories and nations across the world. Over £10m are being awarded to fund this first cohort of projects.
We have been so excited to see these projects come to life, and to see the human stories behind all the “numbers”…
… like the group of young people from the Urdd Gobaith Cymru, a national voluntary youth organisation in Wales, who recently travelled to New Zealand for the World School 7s Tournament.
… or the visit to Lesotho by a group of students and teachers from Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi, a secondary school in Pembrokeshire.
… or the story of Agnes Olah, a student at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, who travelled to Wellington to collect a prestigious international fashion award at an event attended by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Establishing partnerships, collaboration and exchanges
In the autumn, we launched the call for Pathway 2, which focusses on strategic collaboration and partnerships. This call also received a good number of applications, and these are being assessed at the moment. And as I write this, we are launching our Pathway 1 funding call for 2023, which we hope will also generate a high level of interest and quality applications from all corners of Wales.
So it’s all hands on deck for Taith!
In addition to our funding calls, it was announced in April 2022 that Taith would also be funding phase 3 of Global Wales, an ambitious partnership programme which aims to bring together the Higher Education and Further Education sectors in Wales under a single, joined-up international strategy for recruitment, collaboration and partnerships in key regions and countries.
Another important and critical element of Taith have been the Sector Organising Bodies. These are organisations who went through a competitive bid for Taith funding, and their role is to raise awareness of the programme and provide guidance and support to organisations in the Youth, Schools, and Adult Education sectors. A specific focus for them is to reach out to organisations and individuals who might not have benefitted from this type of opportunities in the past. Inclusivity and widening access are a hugely important aspect of Taith.
A stronger, global presence for Wales
And, of course, with Taith being an international exchange programme, raising the visibility of the programme and of Wales internationally and connecting with international partners has been a great area of focus for us. It has been truly rewarding to see how enthusiastically the programme has been received by partners across Europe and beyond, and what a positive impact this is having on the international profile of Wales. In the last year, we have engaged with partners and organisations from over 30 regions and nations. A highlight for me (and a privilege) was an introductory session about Taith I delivered with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, at the European Parliament in October.
It is undeniable that international exchanges have a hugely positive impact on the lives of the individuals who benefit from them, enabling them to develop new skills and new perspectives, as well as opening new horizons and opportunities. Taith would also like every individual who has benefited from the opportunities given through the programme to become ambassadors for Wales, carrying the message to the world that Wales is welcoming and outward-looking, collaborative and open to international connections.
As I reflect on what we have achieved during our first year, I am extremely grateful for the journey so far and for all the support and guidance we have received along the way: from all the education and learning sectors across Wales, from our visionary funders – the Welsh Government, from our expert Advisory Board chaired by the formidable Kirsty Williams, from Cardiff University and our Board of Directors, from the Sector Organising Bodies, from individuals all across Wales, from international partners, from generous international experts, from our independent assessors… the list goes on.
But I must dedicate a special thanks to the Taith team. We have been on an amazing (and sometimes bumpy!) journey together. The resilience, passion and commitment to the programme from each member of the team has been inspiring to me. We have laughed and we have cried, but most importantly, we are proud to have started something truly special and unique for Wales which, ultimately, will change so many lives and will generate so many amazing memories and experiences.
One year on, we are still learning and we are still discovering. We look forward to the journey ahead.