'I Am Not a Stalinist Zealot on University Mergers' BUT ANDREWS SAYS COLLEGE REFORMATION MUST COME

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

'I Am Not a Stalinist Zealot on University Mergers' BUT ANDREWS SAYS COLLEGE REFORMATION MUST COME


Byline: GARETH EVANS

UNIVERSITIES in Wales are shaped by public policy and not free of social obligations, Education Minister Leighton Andrews has warned.

In a major speech to sector stakeholders, Mr Andrews said universities have always required "substantial state largesse" and are "as autonomous as their vice-chancellor's last grant application".

It comes amidst increased pressure on the nation's higher education institutions to collaborate.

Universities have been told to "adapt or die" by Mr Andrews, who is committed to reducing the number of Wales' higher education institutions.

The funding council has recommended there be no more than six universities in Wales next year - down from the current 10 campus-based institutions.

But while the timescale for change is unlikely, Mr Andrews this week reaffirmed his commitment to seeing through the Welsh Government's transformation agenda.

"Higher education reconfiguration is the beginning of a process of strengthening the higher education sector in Wales, not an end in itself," he said.

"I would far rather discuss the quality, range of provision, strength of research and the opportunities open to higher education in Wales, rather than focusing with quite so much intensity on its structure. But we will complete the agenda."

Mr Andrews said he wanted to see a university system in Wales that avoids "unnecessary institutional competition" and plays to the strengths of its component parts.

"I recall that when I was a student at Bangor in the '70s, you couldn't have studied law there - for that, you would have had to come to Aberystwyth, as so many, including our First Minister, were to do," he said.

"Today, you can study law in Bangor. We should not be sentimental about institutions or courses, but we should be sentimental about people and their opportunities to learn. No institution in Wales has ever taught every subject."

The history of education in Wales was central to Monday's speech, with Mr Andrews keen to provide a "sense of perspective" to Welsh Government policy.

And with personal attacks ringing in his ears, he said current reconfiguration proposals were the product of a "collective agenda" pursued since devolution.

"One of the most irritating things in media coverage of politics is the tendency to personalise policy debates," said Mr Andrews.

"From time to time, I am told that higher education reconfiguration is my policy, that I have dreamed it up, seeking to impose it Stalinist zealot.

"Some history would a sense of The debate on higher reconfiguration to the first Assembly.

"I wasn't an Assembly at the time.

"The very first policy carried out by the Assembly's Education Lifelong Learning in the first Assembly that of higher education. "Under the chairmanship Plaid Cymru's Cynog there was cross-party that there should revised structure of education, based on model."

Mr Andrews said been considerable political public engagement restructuring of higher in Wales, adding: not my agenda - it agenda pursued time by governments Assembly, from the on.

"And it has been an election manifesto. will prevail. commitments will be honoured."

Mr Andrews said his predecessors Jane Davidson and Jane Hutt were champions of the collaborative agenda, with the latter quoted in 2009 as saying: "I am in no doubt that higher education needs to change, and change fast."

Jane below, Nevertheless, such is the opposition in some quarters, at least one university has considered privatisation - and a break from public funding - as an alternative to merger plans. Mr Andrews told at Aberystwyth Institute of Welsh that he wanted to the "legitimacy of in the nation's education institutions. He said: "It is worth recalling that our education institutions suddenly spring up as private enterprises or as creations of the higher education funding councils, or as works of art drawn up by the refined imaginations of their vice-chancellors. …

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