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Written Statement - The Future Shape of Higher Education in South East Wales

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
On 29 November, I announced my initial response to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales' (HEFCW's) advice on the structure of the higher education sector in Wales.  I stated that I believed HEFCW had presented a persuasive case for the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Metropolitan University and University of Wales, Newport to merge to create a true ‘metropolitan’ university in South-east Wales, comparable to those in similarly sized city-regions around the UK.  

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.  I have made it clear that I look to a smaller number of stronger universities in Wales.  In the South-east region in particular, we need a more coherent, geographically balanced and sustainable offering of HE provision, which builds on individual institutions' existing strengths.  This approach would help to create an academic and vocational portfolio of significance in the UK and international market.  It would ensure that what are currently three individual institutions would, as a whole, be better able to respond to the challenges facing the HE sector.  In particular, these include making an improved contribution to economic development and the need for a skilled workforce, and playing a significant role in the wider social and cultural context in which HEIs operate.

A single strong, competitive post-92 university in SE Wales would build on the collaborative work established to date through the University of the Heads of the Valleys, thus promoting progression to HE from FE and other routes, and support for businesses.  It would also provide an opportunity for these institutions to develop provision further across the region, in order to minimise duplication and reach a wider audience.  The combined resources of a larger institution would put it in a better position to penetrate, for example, Gwent and to build further opportunities for HE provision for learners in the Cardiff area.  A more solid basis for working together would also facilitate greater progress of work being taken forward through, for example, the SE strategy Regional Strategy Steering Group.  

There would be 27,180 full-time students, ie undergraduate and postgraduates (Figures taken from 2009/10 HESA data) in the new institution.  That compares with 27,185 at Manchester Metropolitan University, 21,845 at the University of the West of England and 21,240 at the University of Plymouth.  These comparisons are all based on 2009/10 data.  

I recognise that each institution has strengths in particular areas in both teaching and research, across areas such as business and management, the performing arts and product design and development.  A single institution would draw on these strengths, while offering an opportunity to achieve critical mass in quality teaching provision and in competing for research funding.  It would build on the strengths of the current institutions and develop them in a larger, more sustainable framework.  I believe that this would be a positive benefit for learners.

All those with an interest in higher education have already had an opportunity to comment on HEFCW’s proposals.  I shall now be instigating more focussed discussions with the University of Wales, Newport, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of Glamorgan on the options for creating a single institution in South-east Wales.  I shall also be seeking the views of staff and student representatives at these three institutions.  I would prefer to see voluntary mergers between institutions rather than enforced ones.  These discussions will provide an opportunity for representatives at all levels within the institutions to put forward their views on how best to achieve a single institution.