Cardiff Metropolitan, Glamorgan and Newport universities merger urged
Education Minister Leighton Andrews has restated his wish to create a single "super" university in south east Wales.
Plans to merge Cardiff Metropolitan, Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport were unveiled in November.
Mr Andrews says they would be "better able to respond to the challenges" facing the higher education sector.
Cardiff Metropolitan - formerly Uwic - has previously opposed merger plans while others have responded more cautiously.
The merger plan was announced in November in the minister's initial response to advice from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw) on the structure of the higher education sector in Wales.
Ministers have been concerned that four out of 10 of Wales' universities are in a small cluster in south east Wales and a merger for Newport, Glamorgan and Cardiff Metropolitan (the former Uwic) would help them compete on the UK and international stage.
On the eve of the report, there was a warning in a report by an academic advising the Welsh government that there was a danger of decline and Cardiff Met and Newport "cannot survive in the medium term without merger".'Critical mass'
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews restated his case that in south east Wales a "more coherent, geographically balanced and sustainable offering of HE provision" was needed which built on individual institutions' existing strengths.
In a written statement, he said it would also minimise duplication in efforts to reach out to potential students in areas such as the south Wales valleys.
End Quote Leighton Andrews AM Education Minister
I would prefer to see voluntary mergers between institutions rather than enforced ones. ”
And with around 27,000 students, the minister said the merged university would be comparable in size to other universities in city-regions, such as Manchester Metropolitan, Plymouth, and the University of the West of England in Bristol.
"I recognise that each institution has strengths in particular areas in both teaching and research, across areas such as business and management, the performing arts and product design and development," he said.
"A single institution would draw on these strengths, while offering an opportunity to achieve critical mass in quality teaching provision and in competing for research funding.
"It would build on the strengths of the current institutions and develop them in a larger, more sustainable framework. I believe that this would be a positive benefit for learners."
Mr Andrews noted that all interested parties had had the opportunity to comment on Hefcw's proposals, but he would now be instigating "more focussed discussions" with the three universities concerned.
He added: "I shall also be seeking the views of staff and student representatives at these three institutions. I would prefer to see voluntary mergers between institutions rather than enforced ones.
"These discussions will provide an opportunity for representatives at all levels within the institutions to put forward their views on how best to achieve a single institution."
The National Union of Students opposes any forced merger.
Luke Young, NUS Wales president, said: "I am concerned by the suggestion of forced mergers and dissolution of universities. It will not be helpful to higher education in Wales to create a stand off between university vice chancellors and the government.
"What we need is sensible, clear and well-evidenced proposals that ensure that the provision currently available is protected and that the student experienced is enhanced. Students need to be full partners in this process."