New merged university for south east Wales is planned

Newport University's new city campus The new university would have campuses across south-east Wales, like in Newport

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A new university for south east Wales would be created under Welsh government proposals for the future of higher education.

The institution would be established by merging the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Metropolitan University and University of Wales, Newport.

They will now be consulted on the plans, which were welcomed by union UCU Wales.

Education minister Leighton Andrews said he wanted "strong" universities.

Mr Andrews unveiled his proposals after the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw) provided advice on the structure of higher education in Wales earlier this year.

The Welsh Government also received over 400 responses from interested parties following its recommendations.

After considering the issues raised, Mr Andrews said he accepted Hefcw's recommendations that:

  • The University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Metropolitan University and University of Wales, Newport, should merge
  • Cardiff and Swansea Universities should continue to develop their considerable research and collaborative potential.
  • Aberystwyth and Bangor should continue to strengthen their strategic alliance, although they will not be expected to formally merge at this time.
  • The University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University should merge as already planned, and also pursue their merger with the University of Wales.

However, the minister rejected the recommendation that Glyndwr University should move into a group structure managed by Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities.

Analysis

Ciaran Jenkins, BBC Wales education correspondent

Four out of 10 of Wales' universities are in a little cluster around south east Wales and the Welsh government has thought for a long time that that's a bit bonkers.

But what it couldn't do was actually persuade them to come together and create one big super university that could really compete on the UK and international stage.

Today it's saying there will be a new university. It will require the merger of Glamorgan University, Newport and also Cardiff Metropolitan.

And the inference is that this will happen whether they like it or not.

Cardiff Metropolitan University certainly are fundamentally opposed to the idea so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Cardiff Metropolitan are supposed to be autonomous, as universities are, and they said they don't want to merge with anyone.

Yet the government policy is that they should have to merge with other universities and because they're not protected by a royal charter like some of the older universities, the education minister Leighton Andrews does have the power to dissolve the university whether they like it or not.

And that could be what happens some way down the road.

The Welsh government though are saying they want this to happen by consent and there will now be a period of consultation to make it happen.

Instead, he proposed to commission a review of higher education provision in north east Wales.

'Think big'

Mr Andrews said: "We have made a commitment to a smaller number of stronger universities, which are more sustainable and better equipped to meet the needs of learners and the Welsh economy.

"It is also imperative that Wales 'thinks big' on research to ensure that our institutions are not left behind."

He said Hefcw's report presented a "persuasive case" for a merger of universities in south east Wales to provide a "strong, competitive" institution.

The minister said a new metropolitan university in the region would have campuses widely distributed as at present throughout the valleys, Cardiff and Newport.

The University and College Union Wales (UCU Wales) welcomed the proposed new university for south east Wales, saying it would offer greater student choice, job security and career prospects.

"UCU Wales believes the establishment of a new university will provide stability for the higher education sector in south east Wales," Lleu Williams of UCU Wales said.

But the National Union of Students (NUS) Wales warned against a potential stand off between university vice chancellors in the south east and the Welsh government.

"We welcome the minister's clarity on his intentions, but while the details are being thrashed out between institutions, we warn against losing sight of what is fundamentally important - the individual students that will be affected by these proposals," NUS Wales President Luke Young said.

"What we need is sensible, clear and well-evidenced proposals that ensure that the provision currently available is protected and that the student experience is enhanced.

"Students need to be full partners in this process."

'Improve opportunities'

Dr Peter Noyes, vice chancellor of the University of Wales, Newport, said it was crucial that discussions begin to establish exactly what the new south east Wales institution will look like.

"This will allow us to confirm that it will support our mission to improve opportunities for the communities of Gwent," he added.

Cardiff Metropolitan University's chair of governors Barbara Wilding said its board of governors will consider the announcement at its next meeting and "will be responding to the consultation in line with the proposed timetable outlined by the minister".

Cardiff Metropolitan, which previously went by the name University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (Uwic), had previously said it did not want to be part of a merged south east Wales university.

Professor Michael Scott, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Glyndwr University, said: "We look forward to engaging with any future process to look at the overall picture in north Wales, and believe it will offer us the opportunity to build on our many achievements so far, and to go even further in demonstrating our commitment to leading economic growth as a strong, independent university and to increasing the opportunities."

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