Magazine article Times Higher Education

Forced Marriage

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Forced Marriage

Article excerpt

A state-imposed merger of three Welsh institutions threatens self- government in the sector, Barbara Wilding warns.

There are few things that UK higher education should value more highly than the tradition of institutional autonomy. But Cardiff Metropolitan University, the institution I have the privilege to chair, is being threatened with forced dissolution, a move that would see its assets transferred to another university.

Political interference of this level is anathema to UK higher education. Everyone in the sector should be alarmed: the self-government of universities is under threat.

Last year, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales recommended to the Welsh government that a number of universities should merge, resulting in one "new" institution and one research-led university in each of three planning regions.

In South East Wales, where some 60 per cent of the Welsh population reside, the merger of Cardiff Met, the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport has been mooted. Leighton Andrews, the Welsh education minister, has stated that this is his preferred outcome.

Estimates put the size of the merged institution at more than 45,000 students. Spread across eight disparate sites, it would form the largest campus-based institution in the UK.

An alternative scenario, also the subject of statutory consultation, is for Glamorgan and Newport to merge and work with Cardiff Met in a strategic alliance.

Negotiations are ongoing for Newport's dissolution, with its assets and liabilities to be transferred to Glamorgan: this could occur by April next year.

Cardiff Met, however, is a sustainable and viable institution. Its governing body remains to be convinced of the merits of a three-way merger. For the past year, its members have repeatedly asked the Welsh government for the business case: how much would it cost? Where would the money come from? What are the risks? Who are the beneficiaries? A decision on dissolution cannot be made without evidence, assessment of benefit and risk, and consideration of all the options.

Although some would have it otherwise, the governing body has primary responsibility for the university, not least for the well-being of its staff and students. …

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