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Welsh universities welcome merger plans

The University of Wales, Newport and the University of Glamorgan have largely welcomed the Welsh Assembly Government’s plans to merge them with the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.

The government closed a consultation on the report, “Future Structure of Universities in Wales”, on 5 October. The idea of the proposed merger is to create a “post-92 institution appropriate to the population of [SE] Wales”.

In an emailed response to Research Fortnight Today, John Andrews, the chairman of the University of Glamorgan’s board of governors, said the board supports the merger:

“We see the long-term potential for South-East Wales of a single, modern university of a size and scale to compete with the bigger competitors over the border,” he said. “Our positive response is that there must be a swift, clear decision to merge or not… And we will need to be clear that everyone is signed up to the merger before we go into it.”

“We are confident that a merged institution could deliver for South-East Wales a modern, conurbation-based university rooted in the philosophies of vocational and professional education and training, widening participation, employability, and research informed innovation and business engagement, he added.

In its response to the consultation, Newport says it supports the creation of such a university but “only if it further strengthens Newport’s mission to widen access, promote social justice and drive economic regeneration”.

The institution outlines its own vision for how the new university should be set up and calls for it to have a regional focus. It says that a panel with representatives from each institution should guide the process and centres of research excellence should be identified to boost efficiency gains.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity with the reconfiguration of higher education in Wales, and that is why it is so important that we get it right,” said Peter Noyes, vice-chancellor of Newport, in a statement. “In endorsing the creation of a genuinely new institution, the governing body have made it very clear that any move that would weaken the role that we currently play in the region would be unacceptable.”

In its response, the University and College Union says that there should be no lead partner or takeover arrangements based on turnover in the merger. This should be reflected in the choice of name for the institution, which should be “totally independent” of the three merging institutions.

The consultation document also backs a merger between the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University should go ahead as planned.

Meanwhile, it recommends that the universities of Cardiff and Swansea remain independent, while the universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor should consider merging.

The UCU says in its submission that its support for the changes is “absolutely conditional” and that it requires that the organisation is fully engaged in discussions of merger and appointments. Other requirements, it says, include there being no compulsory redundancies as a consequence of merger or collaboration and that the “breadth of provision currently available within the institutions” is maintained.

The assembly also published its draft budget for 2012-13 last week, allocating £271 million for business, enterprise, technology and science and £1.8 billion for education and skills.

The universities of Aberystwyth and Bangor will publish their responses in the next couple of days.