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Written Statement - The future shape of Higher Education in Wales

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HEFCW's report presents recommendations for the future shape of the higher education sector in Wales.
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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

The need for universities with the capacity and critical mass to operate dynamically, effectively and efficiently is a long-established part of the Welsh Government’s policy for higher education.  For Our Future, our higher education strategy for Wales, identified the need for radical change in the shape, structure and provision of higher education.  It is my continuing aim to ensure that the sector is fit for purpose and fully equipped to meet the future challenges that face it. 

HEFCW’s Corporate Strategy, approved by the Cabinet of the One Wales Government on 21 June 2010, set out an objective that 75% of Welsh HE institutions should be at or above the median turn-over for UK HE institutions by 2013. I made an Oral Statement to Plenary on this basis on 29 June 2010. In December 2010, HEFCW stated that it saw the likely future of HE in Wales as involving six Institutions.

In our manifesto for the May Assembly election, Welsh Labour made it clear we looked to a smaller number of stronger Universities.

In March this year, I asked the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to provide me with advice on the structure of the higher education sector in Wales.  The Council has now submitted its report, which sets out very clear recommendations for the future of the sector.  In summary, the Council recommends that:

  • Cardiff University should remain committed to securing a position as a world class research intensive university, while collaborating particularly with Swansea in areas where together they would be more effective, and working with its neighbours to deliver regional coherence;
  • Swansea University should maintain its aim of developing as a research intensive university, and strengthen key research and teaching partnerships with Cardiff. HEFCW also suggests that Swansea should deepen regional coordination with the proposed new Trinity Saint David/Swansea Metropolitan University structure;
  • Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities should substantially widen and deepen their strategic partnership (including development towards integrated governance processes), and should develop a longer-term plan for merger;
  • Glyndŵr University should develop strong structural relationships with a range of FE colleges within a group structure led by Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities in order to expand the range of HE provision available in NE Wales, and to secure greater regional coherence;
  • the University of Glamorgan, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and University of Wales, Newport should merge to create a true ‘metropolitan’ university in SE Wales, comparable to those in similarly sized city-regions around the UK;
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University should merge as already planned, potentially but not necessarily also with the University of Wales; and should deepen regional coordination with Swansea University.

HEFCW also makes other recommendations in its report relating to the University of Wales and to medical education.

I have considered HEFCW’s recommendations carefully.  They are based on the Council's analysis of the current strengths and weaknesses of the sector and its capacity to operate effectively and to achieve long-term sustainability.  I believe HEFCW’s report makes a persuasive case for change and offers a clear rationale for the preferred structure proposed by the Council.  I am therefore minded at this stage to accept the broad thrust of HEFCW’s recommendations.

I am today publishing HEFCW’s report in full and intend to seek representations from stakeholders and the public on the Council’s recommendations over the course of the summer.  I will be inviting all interested stakeholders to comment on the analysis and recommendations set out in the report before reaching a firm view on the most appropriate structure for the future.  Before any final decision and dissolution order is made in relation to an individual higher education corporation, further consultation will be undertaken with the institutions affected.

I am encouraged to note the news today that the governing bodies of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Swansea Metropolitan University and the University of Wales are taking proactive steps towards the structure recommended by HEFCW.  I shall consider the proposal alongside others in the light of representations received.