There Are Many Good Reasons for University Integration; Merger Talks between Education Minister Leighton Andrews and Three Universities in South-East Wales Are Well Underway. Here, Professor Philip Gummett, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw), Argues the Case for Closer Collaboration

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Byline: Philip Gummett

WHAT'S the best way to organise our universities in Wales, so as to provide the best possible service to the people of Wales for the funds available, and to address the challenges of social justice and economic regeneration? That was the question put to Hefcw by Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills. We replied in June 2011 with evidence that the current structure of universities across Wales is not optimal.

Anyone designing a higher education (HE) system for Wales today would be unlikely to propose the present structure.

We offered our best judgement on ways forward, informed by that evidence and by the extensive experience of our council.

There has been some suggestion that the element of judgement in our advice somehow devalues it. We think that (informed) judgement is unavoidable in matters of this kind, and is indeed the prime responsibility of leaders in all sectors of life.

Our most far-reaching recommendation concerned South-East Wales. We advised that the University of Glamorgan, the then University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (now Cardiff Met) and the University of Wales, Newport, should form a new university. We envisaged an institution better able to serve the needs of the entire region than the current three institutions.

What could we have if we integrated and offered across the entire region the best that already exists? Some examples: [bar] A powerhouse in cultural and creative industries that combines Glamorgan's Atrium, Newport's film and photography, the art and design schools of Newport and Cardiff Met (which already work closely together) and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, already within the Glamorgan Group.

Sports science that, combining the outstanding indoor and outdoor facilities at Cardiff Met and Glamorgan, matches the best anywhere in the UK. [bar] Business studies, offering across the region the vast range encompassed by the complementary strengths of the three existing business schools. [bar] Linkage of the Cardiff Met/ Newport South-East Wales Centre for Teacher Education and Training with Glamorgan's early years, youth and education work, creating a major centre for developing education professionals across the region.

An approach to widening access that combines existing great strengths, including the Glamorgan/ Newport universities' Heads of the Valleys Institute, and enables more coherent progression pathways with further education colleges.

A single "front door" for the extensive business-focused research and consultancy strengths of the three.

Scope to move student numbers around the region according to changing local needs. [bar] The scale to invest effectively in the most technologically advanced modes of course delivery and other improvements in facilities for students.

This is an ambitious agenda and commentators are right that it would be a real challenge to deliver. But some of the reservations that have been voiced are hard to understand. …