Merged University of Wales chief hails 'new beginning'

University of Wales The University of Wales said the merger will deliver a new university for Wales

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The University of Wales (UoW) says its merger with two colleges is the "start of a new beginning" for the scandal-hit institution.

The 120-year old university is in effect being abolished after BBC Wales' investigations raised questions about its scrutiny of partner colleges.

Vice-chancellor Medwin Hughes said the new organisation was a "strong brand" that ensured UoW's name would continue.

UoW council chairman Hugh Thomas resigned after the merger decision.

Visa scandal

Start Quote

You don't throw away a name - Wales. You don't throw away the name of the university of Wales. Clearly it has to change.”

End Quote Prof Medwin Hughes University of Wales

The institution's future had come into question following Welsh government proposals to rationalise higher education.

A merger with Trinity St David in Carmarthen and Lampeter, and Swansea Metropolitan University, was proposed as the way forward.

But a scandal uncovered by BBC Wales involving an alleged visa scam centred on a partner college in London offering UoW validated degrees confounded the plan.

Prof Medwin Hughes, said the three institutions would now be "recreated" under a new brand.

The new vice-chancellor told BBC Radio Wales: "We have secured yesterday that the Wales name will continue within the context of higher education.

'Decent burial'

Analysis by Ciaran Jenkins, BBC Wales Education Correspondent

Universities don't normally fold overnight let alone national institutions.

But after a fortnight of mounting pressure Wales' scandal-hit national University is set to be abolished after 118 years.

An alleged visa scam involving staff at one of its many partner colleges, exposed by BBC Wales, was the final nail in its coffin.

A year ago the University was as strong as ever - still the second-largest degree-awarding body in the UK, with 70,000 students around the world.

Then came the first BBC Wales investigation, finding irregularities in its foreign partnerships.

The Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, said Wales had been let down by its university.

But worse was to follow: the suggestion that among its partners there was a college in which members of staff were offering to help students cheat their way to its degrees.

Other Welsh universities turned on the institution, six out of ten calling for it to be scrapped.

Only two members of the University would have remained, both located in south west Wales.

The University no longer represented the whole of Wales, the country's biggest institutions having already pulled out in the past six years.

Some suspected the University would fight on and voiced fears that with each new scandal the reputation of higher education in Wales was being damaged further.

But an already bitter battle between universities in Wales was being conducted in public and that could not continue.

There is much to be proud of in the history of the University of Wales, not least its origins as an institution paid for by the subscriptions of education-hungry ordinary people.

The final chapter in its story, however, will be one tarnished by controversy and scandal.

"Wales needs strong brands. You don't throw away a name - Wales. You don't throw away the name of the university of Wales. Clearly it has to change. Every university has to change."

Prof Hughes said students in the UK and beyond would still be able to finish a University of Wales degree.

Once the merger has taken place, new degrees would bear the name of the three universities, he said.

Following the scandal revelations, education minister Leighton Andrews said UoW had "let Wales down" and "probably requires a decent burial", and called for Mr Thomas to quit.

Last year BBC Wales revealed that a pop star with bogus degrees was running a University of Wales partner college in Malaysia.

It led to a damning report from the higher education watchdog, the QAA, which found serious shortcomings in the way UoW approved other colleges to teach and design courses for its degrees.

Announcing his resignation on Friday, Mr Thomas said the "historic decision" taken by the governing body for merger had led him "to assess what in leadership terms was in the best interests of the transformed university".

A Welsh government spokesperson welcomed the resignation as the "right decision in light of recent events".

"The University of Wales has played an important part in the history of Wales. It's important that any successor institution builds upon that history," they added.

Conservative education spokeswoman Angela Burns AM said: "It is now crucial that lessons are learned and that Welsh higher education regains its credibility".

'Controversy after controversy'

Dr Peter Noyes, vice chancellor of University of Wales, Newport, said the merger "should not detract from a distinguished history lasting 12 decades".

"Wales should be sad that this day has come but those who have played a part in the institution's history, whether graduates, academics or others should look back with fondness on this national institution," he said.

"We are heading towards a future with a transformed higher education sector in Wales and it had become clear that the University of Wales was unable to play a part in that future."

Luke Young, president of National Union of Students (NUS) Wales said: "This was the right decision for the University of Wales to take.

"After the last few weeks where we have seen controversy after controversy, it did become quite clear that the status quo just really wasn't acceptable."

He said merging with Trinity St David and Swansea Metropolitan University was a "better evolutionary process than simply scrapping the brand altogether".

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