Archive for December 22, 2010

Wales set for university mergers

Posted in Education, Finance with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by telescoper

Just another quick post to pass on the news just out that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has announced that the number of universities in Wales must reduce by a half over the next two years.

I’ve argued already on this blog that there are too many small separate higher education institutions in Wales and that’s a view which is probably held by many across the sector. Mergers and/or closures have seemed to me to be inevitable for some time given the general climate of austerity and the consequent chill winds blowing through the groves of academe. According to HEFCW, the plan is that by 2013 no “region” of Wales will have any more than two universities although I’m not sure what counts as a region.

Until recently there were four different “universities” with campuses in Cardiff: Cardiff University (where I work); the University of Glamorgan (which has a presence in Cardiff, but which has its main campus in Pontypridd); the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD); and the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC).

In fact RWCMD was absorbed by the University of Glamorgan a short time ago, but still uses its old name as part of the merged institution.
Apparently one more merger will be necessary to satisfy HEFCW’s requirement, which I guess will involve UWIC also being absorbed by the University of Glamorgan. If that does happen, I hope HEFCW will keep a close eye on matters of governance. The UoG doesn’t seem to me to have a very strong track-record with respect to resafeguarding standards of academic practice.

Depending on how “region” is interpreted, there might even be pressure to include the University of Wales, Newport in an even bigger new South East Wales institution presumably headed by the University of Glamorgan.

Elsewhere in Wales the merger process is already underway. Last week, Swansea Metropolitan and the University of Wales Trinity St David announced plans to create a united institution. Going back one stage, the University of Wales Trinity St David was itself formed through the merger earlier this year of Wales’ oldest education institutions, Trinity University College, Carmarthen and the University of Wales Lampeter. Although these have merged it appears they will carry on using their existing names, which may cause some confusion but we’ll have to see how it goes.

It’s important to note that universities are officially independent bodies, so HEFCW (through which public funding is channeled to them) can’t really just tell them to merge. However, many of the smaller institutions are so dependent on state funding that they basically have to do what HEFCW tells them or face financial oblivion. Of course it will require Vice-chancellors to agree, and since presumably half of them will cease to be VCs, there will be some reluctance. Turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas. However, HEFCW has promised that “core funding will be deployed in ways which lend force to the achievement of that target”. In other words, they’ll be calling on the odd VC to make them an offer they can’t refuse…


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Shine on me

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 22, 2010 by telescoper

Pianist Jaki Byard was one of the most consistently original musicians of his jazz generation, but he was also consistently underrated. His eclectic style embraced the avant garde free jazz of the 60s and 70s as well as traditional gospel and folk music. Whatever he played, though, it definitely sounded exactly like Jaki Byard. Anyway, in 1968 he teamed up with the extraordinarily talented multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk to record a typically varied selection of music, including this one which has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it on the radio about 30 years ago. It’s one of the most played tracks on my iPod, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face even when I’m stuck on stationary train feeling miserable.

Shine on me is attributed to that most prolific of all composers, Trad. It’s a theme that turns up in a few very early jazz recordings, but I think it began life as a gospel song way back in the mists of time. In this version, though, it’s given a foot-tapping beat which is just so very nineteen-sixties. Roland Kirk’s decision to start the piece on clarinet was truly inspired, and you can tell that all four musicians had a blast playing this. I suppose it’s a sort of parody, but it’s an affectionate one.

Finally, let me mention the drummer Alan Dawson, whose playing is based around a sort of half-funk half-boogie, but with all kinds of polyrythmic stuff on on top; he drives this along like the clappers and makes it such a joy to listen to.


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