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Written Statement - University of Wales

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

The University of Wales has a long and illustrious history.  As an institution, it has helped to create and define the modern character of Wales.  Many Assembly Members and many thousands of people all over the world are proud holders of University of Wales degrees. 

In recent years, I regret to say, the reputation of this once great University has suffered a number of setbacks.  The University of Wales has been the focus of long-standing and frequent criticism for repeated failures of institutional governance.  My previous statements of 21 March and 21 June 2011 informed Members of continuing and serious concerns about the University’s external validation arrangements and management of its collaborative enterprises.  I have made repeated calls on the Governing Body of the University to take responsibility for these failings and to take urgent action where required. 

Last week we saw yet more damning criticism levelled at the University of Wales after serious allegations were made about certain institutions whose qualifications were validated by the University.  The Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science will issue a further statement on the POWIS scheme in due course.

As I reminded the National Assembly in June, the recent McCormick Report argued that good governance is needed at national and institutional level to ensure that Wales’ higher education system is globally competitive, strives for excellence and is responsive to the changing needs of learners.  McCormick considered that the University of Wales, because it receives so little public funding, “…is the nearest thing Wales has to a private institution in higher education.  However, it is an institution that is deploying a national asset – the all-Wales brand – and yet has no national accountability.”

Ultimately, McCormick concluded that the University of Wales could not continue in its present form and should be either substantially reformed or wound up.

Last week a new Vice Chancellor took up post at the University of Wales and I wish Professor Medwin Hughes every success in his new role. 

However, the continuing adverse publicity attached to the University of Wales is damaging not just to the institution but to the Welsh higher education sector and to Wales as a whole. 
In view of the further allegations made in the press last week, I believe it is untenable for the University of Wales to continue under its current leadership.  The very least we should expect is that those who hold senior positions of governance in our higher education institutions should exercise effective oversight of their university’s operations and take full responsibility for their stewardship. 

I therefore call upon the Chair of the Council of the University of Wales to consider his position in the interests of the institution and of Wales.  I do not say this lightly, but we cannot have a situation where a catalogue of mismanagement undermines the whole of the higher education sector in Wales.