South East Wales

University mergers: Hopkin report advised ministers against plan four years ago

Image caption The Education Minister is seeking a voluntary merger, but does have the power to force it through

Ministers were advised four years ago against merging three south Wales universities, BBC Wales can reveal.

A leaked report adds to the latest row on plans to merge Cardiff Metropolitan University, the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport.

Cardiff Metropolitan has warned of legal action if it is forced to merge by education minister Leighton Andrews.

In 2008, a report by Sir Deian Hopkin said a full-scale merger was "unrealistic at this time."

The confidential report was compiled by a leading academic who was asked by the then education minister Jane Hutt to independently chair a strategic collaboration board in an attempt to bring the three institutions closer together.

At the time Cardiff Metropolitan, which was known as the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, (Uwic) said it favoured collaboration but fell short of supporting any merger plan.

Glamorgan said it did see a "continuing business case" for a merger with Uwic, but not with Newport.

Meanwhile Newport highlighted its record of existing collaborative projects.

The report also shows the board looked at 32 different models of where institutions had merged in Wales and the rest of the UK.

Sir Deian concluded: "In light of the differences between the institutions in terms of their visions, missions and in light of the lessons learnt from mergers and the lack of agreement on the strength of the business case; it was agreed that full-scale merger between two or all three HEIs was unrealistic at this time."

But despite the advice in the 2008 report, the Welsh government now wants to press ahead with the merger proposals.

Mr Andrews believes the evidence in last year's Higher Education Funding Council review shows a merger will create one of the most powerful higher education bodies in the UK.

He is seeking a voluntary merger, but he does have the power to force it through.

Barbara Wilding, chair of governors at Cardiff last week said they are prepared to fight such a move in the High Court.

'Negative impact'

She said she has seen no evidence that plans to merge are necessary and is concerned that without a detailed business plan, the college governors cannot make an informed decision on whether or not to support a "super" university plan.

The university said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the "Hopkin report" as it remains confidential.

But a spokesperson for the University of Glamorgan said: "We see the long-term potential for south-east Wales of a single, modern university of a size and scale to compete with its major competitors over the border, and rooted in the philosophies of vocational and professional education and training, widening participation, employability, and research-informed innovation and business engagement."

A spokesperson for the University of Wales, Newport added: "The Hopkin report rightly identifies the negative impact of previous, abortive merger discussions on the operations of the universities involved and Welsh higher education more generally.

"In response to the current reconfiguration discussions, Newport has made the case that this can only be overcome by the creation of a new, not merged institution in south east Wales which protects and builds on the existing good work of all three institutions.

"It is clear that a speedy resolution to the uncertainty that currently surrounds the institutions involved is now essential in order to allow us to get on with fulfilling our role of educating people, supporting economic growth and promoting social justice."

Sir Deian would not comment on his mergers report.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "This report was produced in 2008, when the situation facing higher education across the UK was very different."

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