Archive for UWIC

Who needs the University of Wales?

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2011 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a quick  and possibly inflammatory, comment about the University of Wales affair.

I’m not sure how much this story has spread outside Wales, but it’s relatively easy to summarise quickly.  The University of Wales has had a complicated history which I won’t go into details about, but in essence it used to be the only University in Wales; my current employer, Cardiff University, for example, was for a long time a College of the University of Wales.  In 1992 the special status of the University of Wales changed when the former Polytechnic of Wales became the University of Glamorgan. In subsequent years a number of institutions within the University of Wales, including the College of  Cardiff in 2004, sought and were granted the ability to award their own degrees rather than degrees accredited by the University of Wales and so effectively became independent. As  a consequence, the importance of the University of Wales in the landscape of Welsh Higher Education rapidly dwindled to the point where it was a “rump” of an institution accrediting degrees for just a few relatively small institutes.

Having spent some time in my career working in London, it seems to me that there’s at least superficially a  striking parallel between the situation in Wales and that surrounding the former colleges of the University of London, most of which now award their own degrees rather than University of London degrees. The University of London nevertheless still exists, though I’ve never really understood why.

It tends to be the case that administrative structures refuse to die a natural death but instead try to find new things to administer. In order to justify itself, the University of Wales diversified into accrediting degrees from a host of smaller institutions both at home and abroad.  To cut several long stories very short, much of its business in recent years has been dodgy to say the least.  The University of Wales’ involvement in visa scams and  the selling of bogus degrees are just two of the revelations that have led to many calling for the organisation to be scrapped altogether, prominent among them being the Welsh Assembly Minister responsible for higher education, Leighton Andrews.

The University of Wales “brand” has now become so tarnished that some of   Welsh Higher Education institutions whose degrees it accredits now seem anxious to sever their ties altogether. The University of Wales, Institute of Cardiff (UWIC) wishes to change its name to Cardiff Metropolitan University and award its own degrees.

I think it’s quite clear that the University of Wales is now damaged beyond repair and should be dissolved, although the mechanism by which this can be achieved is unclear as universities are  independent charitable institutions, not run directly from government.  So egregious has been the conduct of the senior management of this organisation, however, that I’m sure a way can be found to wind it up. I just can’t see how it can possibly survive these scandals.

Unfortunately, dissolution  in itself will not repair the damage already done; some institutions under the University of Wales umbrella will surely find that, through no fault of their own, a great deal of mud will stick.

Leighton Andrews has already called – rightly, in my view – for a reduction in the number of universities in Wales, most of which are small. In my neck of the woods, South-east Wales, for example, a game of musical mergers has been going on for months already between UWIC, Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport but no concrete plans have emerged. In my opinion the region can only sustain one world-class, research intensive university and one teaching led “new” university. Will  the  chaos generated by the public disintegration of the University of Wales make it easier or harder to achieve this?

But I can’t help feel sad about the inevitable demise of the University of Wales, which seems to me to be more of a tragedy than a farce. Its problems can all be traced back to the terrible decision,  taken by the Conservative government in 1992, to allow the polytechnics to call themselves universities. Wales was much better off when it had one University and one Polytechnic, and neither had to prostitute itself to make ends meet.

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…