Cardiff Met Set to Remain Independent after Resisting Merger Move; ANDREWS VOWS NEW HIGHER EDUCATION POLICY IN 2013
Byline: GARETH EVANS Education Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org
A UNIVERSITY threatened with dissolution looks certain to retain its autonomy as the Welsh Government prepares to ditch its reconfiguration agenda.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Western Mail, Education Minister Leighton Andrews revealed a three-year drive to reorganise Wales' universities was drawing to an end.
A change in higher education policy will all but guarantee Cardiff Metropolitan University's continued independence after months of speculation and uncertainty over its future.
Mr Andrews said: "In 2013 I'm going to be unveiling a new higher education policy - and I don't think reconfiguration is going to be at the heart of that."
Controversial plans to dissolve Cardiff Met and the University of Wales, Newport to make way for a new "super university" were first unveiled in July.
If approved, a three-way merger - involving the University of Glamorgan as the preferred "vehicle" - would have drawn together eight campuses and more than 40,000 students.
A statutory consultation was launched but in the face of fierce opposition from Cardiff Met governors, Mr Andrews shelved the plans less than four months later.
He said Glamorgan and Newport, which feared their desire to merge voluntarily may be hampered by a long-running consultation process, had prompted his decision.
Looking back at the collaborative strides made during his three years as minister, Mr Andrews said: "I'm very happy with what has developed and very pleased with the progress that's being made in the south-west - by Swansea Metropolitan, Trinity Saint David and the further education colleges there - and very pleased with the progress being made by Glamorgan and Newport.
"In 2013 we get the report on higher education in North-East Wales, which I'm looking forward to, and how we can ensure we are supporting the needs of that region.
"I gave the reconfiguration agenda three years and when I came into the post, I had the For Our Future [higher education] policy which my predecessor Jane Hutt launched and I agreed 100% with.
"But I was very determined that we would drive the reconfiguration agenda for three years and then I wanted to start talking about the quality of Welsh higher education - and what we as a Government can do to support our higher education sector moving forward."
With Glamorgan and Newport set on merging in April next year, Mr Andrews has warned Cardiff Met is "largely marginal to the Welsh Government's Higher Education Strategy".
But he has cooled on the idea of forcing its hand, and when asked about the university's future, Mr Andrews said: "That's a matter for the governing body of Cardiff Met.
"The Welsh Government is focused on successful higher education institutions in Wales that have a strong strategic focus, a clear sense of direction and will make a major contribution to the development of the Welsh economy; the international reputation of Wales and strengthening our research base; and the employability of our students and the quality of their experience here in Wales."
Elsewhere, in the nation's schools sector, attention has again been drawn to Pisa - the world's biggest education survey.
Conducted every three years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) uses a representative sample of 15-year -olds from more than 70 countries to gauge how different education systems are performing against one another. Wales was ranked 38th for reading, 40th for maths and 30th for science the last time results were published in December 2010.
Unveiling a 20-point improvement plan to revive Welsh fortunes, Mr Andrews said Wales should aim to be in the world's top-20 education systems when Pisa tests in 2015.
There is a lot at stake and one of the minister's closest allies, Welsh Government adviser Professor David Reynolds, believes failure to improve will jeopardise economic prosperity. …