Bangor University appoints non-Welsh speaker as head

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A non-Welsh speaker is to be Bangor University's new vice-chancellor despite calls for the post to reflect its Welsh-speaking community.

Prof John Hughes, currently president of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, was described as "a proven leader" by the university's council.

Prof Hughes has undertaken to learn Welsh, the council added.

Language campaigners said the university "no longer deserved to be described as a Welsh institution".

Prof Hughes, who will succeed Prof Merfyn Jones, will be only the university's seventh vice-chancellor or principal in its 126-year history when he takes up the post this autumn.

According to the 2001 census, 46.6% of the population of Bangor speak Welsh, while the proportion of Welsh speakers in Gwynedd as a whole is 68.7%.

In the university, some 700 of the 10,000 students currently follow a course either wholly or partly in Welsh.

Prof Hughes, a mathematician and theoretical physicist, is a former dean and pro vice-chancellor (research), at the University of Ulster.

Prof Hughes has been president of National University of Ireland (NUI) Maynooth since 2004, during which time, Bangor University said, he transformed its fortunes.

He raised its ranking from 10th to fourth in Ireland, tripling research income to 34m euros per year, and earning Maynooth the accolade of Sunday Times University of the Year in Ireland in 2008.

He has a strong reputation for working closely with industry and in the commercialisation of research - a partnership which he forged with Intel has been widely acclaimed.

He has also built up an extensive network of international partnerships.

'Firmly committed'

In a statement announcing his appointment Bangor University said Prof Hughes had "firmly committed" to working positively within the bilingual environment in which Bangor operates, and had undertaken to learn Welsh.

"In his current University in Maynooth he revitalised the use of Irish on campus, and academic meetings in Maynooth can now be conducted bilingually," said the university.

Lord Davies of Abersoch, chair of Bangor University's Council, said: "Prof John Hughes is a proven leader who will bring invaluable experience and skill to Bangor at what is widely acknowledged to be a challenging time for higher education."

Prof Hughes said he was delighted by his appointment, and was attracted by the university's history and culture and by its reputation for excellence in research and teaching.

"I will be looking to develop these areas as well as engaging with a range of other issues," he said.

"I look forward too to working with the Welsh Assembly Government, the Higher Education Funding Council and colleagues in other Welsh universities on the key issues facing the sector in Wales, not least our contribution to economic prosperity and social justice."

Welsh language pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg said the university still had the chance to place a legal duty on the successful candidate to learn Welsh.

In a statement it said in recent weeks students, staff and campaign groups across north Wales had asked university officials to reverse their decision not to make speaking or learning Welsh a legal condition for the next appointee.

Rhys Llwyd, Cymdeithas vice-chair, and a research student at Bangor, said: "We're gutted that the university has carried on and appointed someone who can't speak Welsh.

"Bangor University no longer deserves to be described as a Welsh institution, given its attitude to the local community.

"It's essential that the new official can communicate properly in Welsh given the substantial number of Welsh speaking students, staff and local communities here."

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