Magazine article Times Higher Education

Land of Market Differences: It's Not 'Deviant', Just Welsh

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Land of Market Differences: It's Not 'Deviant', Just Welsh

Article excerpt

Funding council chief says managed sector suits Wales' size and aims. David Matthews writes.

A competitive market in higher education cannot work in a country as small as Wales because there are too few universities to allow any to fail, according to the outgoing chief executive of the country's funding council.

Phil Gummett, who is retiring at the end of October, arrived at the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales in 2000 on what was supposed to be a secondment from the University of Manchester, where he was pro vice- chancellor.

It turned into a 12-year stint at the body, including eight years as chief executive, during which he oversaw one of the most tumultuous periods for Welsh universities in decades.

There have been concerns since the 1980s that Wales has too many universities for its size, but under Professor Gummett - and, since late 2009, the outspoken education minister Leighton Andrews - substantial consolidation has finally happened.

"When I arrived in Wales ... there were 13 universities, plus The Open University and the (federal) University of Wales," Professor Gummett said.

Notwithstanding resistance to a merger from Cardiff Metropolitan University, HEFCW's recommendation that Wales should cut its number of universities to six is on track.

A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute argued that there had been a waning of funding council powers in the devolved nations, replaced with direct control by ministers.

Professor Gummett countered that a "managed" approach is essential because a market will not work in Wales. …

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