University of Wales 'should close if other plans fail'

Education minister Leighton Andrews
Image caption Education Minister Leighton Andrews says the University of Wales has to change

The University of Wales should be wound down and closed if other plans for its future fail, a report has concluded.

The review, commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government, said the institution should "change radically".

It said the university had become dependent on income from validating courses in colleges overseas.

It comes after it emerged the higher education standards watchdog was investigating the university's links to a business school in Singapore.

The review was commissioned by the assembly government and chaired by John McCormick.

The review of higher education governance said it would be "unsustainable" for the University of Wales (UoW) to continue in its current form.

It added that the university had become dependent on income from validating courses in overseas colleges. There are 15,000 students taking its degrees in 25 disciplines in 30 countries.

The higher education watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), has launched an investigation into the university over standards at the Turning Point Business School in Singapore following a number of complaints from students.

The UoW's overseas partnerships were the subject of a BBC Wales investigation which found a college in Malaysia run by a pop star with two bogus degrees was offering courses leading to the university's degrees.

'No accountability'

Tuesday's review said the UoW "represents a division in Welsh higher education rather than its unity".

Established in 1893, it receives very little public funding.

"However, it is an institution that is deploying a national asset - the all-Wales brand - and yet has no national accountability," the review said.

In recent years the universities of Bangor, Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Swansea have pulled back and opted to award their own degrees.

The university is now the main degree awarding body at Glyndwr University, Uwic, Swansea Metropolitan University, the University of Wales Newport and Trinity Saint David.

The review also raises questions about plans revealed by BBC Wales in February for a merger between Uwic, Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University under the banner of the University of Wales.

If the merger does not work, consideration should be given to slimming down the university into a service provider for the rest of the higher education sector, the review said.

The final option offered by the review is to close UoW and disperse its remaining activities.

In a statement to AMs, Education Minister Leighton Andrews said the review "identified a failing in the higher education sector's continued collective lack of commitment to address Welsh strategic priorities".

"The opportunity for governing bodies to be a force for dynamism, innovation and change is being missed," he said.

On the UoW, he said: "There is no doubt that the University of Wales has to change. Such change has to address the issues of quality that have beleaguered it."

Civil servants will evaluate the university's proposals for the merger.

Earlier, the university responded to the QAA investigation and said it was happy to speak to Mr Andrews.

It said: "As regards making public statements, we will not do so until we have seen and properly considered the relevant reports from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Quality Assurance Agency.

"In the meantime, we can assure all our stakeholders that the University of Wales is pursuing its academic responsibilities with the utmost diligence, working with its merger partners to deliver an exciting new higher education institution for Wales and collaborating with overseas institutions to fulfil its global mission, including currently hosting in Wales leading academics from some of the world's foremost universities."

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