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Green light for most Welsh university mergers

Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews has backed most of the proposed mergers for Welsh universities.

In a statement on 29 November, Andrews announced proposals for the shape of higher education in Wales. The plans follow a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, “Future Structure of Universities in Wales”, which was sent out for consultation over the summer.

HEFCW had advised Andrews that its “preferred outcome” would be that Bangor and Aberystwyth develop “by the end of our corporate planning period a plan for merger”.

However, in their responses to the consultation both universities opposed such a merger. Aberystwyth said a merger could be costly, disruptive and make the institutions look “weak”.

Andrews has now said the institutions would not be expected to “formally merge at this time”, but stressed that they should continue to strengthen their strategic alliance.

He rejected a recommendation that Glyndwr University should move into a group structure managed by Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities, and suggested a review of HE provision in north-east Wales.

However, he supported most of HEFCW’s university merger plans. He said a merger between the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University should go ahead as planned. They should also pursue their merger with the University of Wales, he added.

In addition, he was “minded to accept” a merger of the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of Wales, Newport.

HEFCW had made a “persuasive case” for such a merger, which would create a strong post-92 institution in south-east Wales, said a government statement.

Cardiff and Swansea Universities should remain independent, he said, but continue to develop their “considerable research and collaborative potential”.

“We have made a commitment to a smaller number of stronger universities, which are more sustainable and better equipped to meet the needs of learners and the Welsh economy,” said Andrews in a statement.

“It is also imperative that Wales ‘thinks big’ on research to ensure that our institutions are not left behind. The higher education sector, through Higher Education Wales, recognises the need for change and supports our initiative,” he added.