Clipped wings of a Welsh dragon

October 28, 2005

The recent and damaging Quality Assurance Agency report on the University of Wales found that the over-arching collegiate quality regime that ensures the standing of the awarded degree had been fatally weakened.

The disintegration that the QAA uncovered was the product of nearly a decade of plotting and surreptitious adjustment orchestrated by the top officials of some of the university's senior institutions.

Cardiff was a leading member of the "reformers" and, having contributed to undermining the university's authority as guarantor of regulations and standards, it claimed its own university title through its own degree-awarding powers and blithely stepped away disingenuously complaining that the Privy Council would not approve a "university within a university".

The rush is now on for the other colleges and institutions to follow suit.

Rather than contemplate genuine collegiality, the proposal now before the University of Wales Council is to require independent degree-awarding powers as a mark of membership. This is the equivalent of King Arthur requiring as admission to the Round Table that each knight become a king.

It leaves the obvious question of what then could be the role of the king?

The brief document making this recommendation for what the university president, Daffyd Wigley, called "a new University of Wales" is striking in its overwhelming lack of cultural vision and the thorough absence of national ambition. The university is to become a service unit for the institutions, rather than fulfilling the primary role of its charter to serve the society and culture of Wales.

The cynical calculation behind these proposals rests on the assumption that many will imagine that the original and fundamental character of the university will remain unchanged. This subterfuge is essential, for what is at stake is the commercial value of the university's imprimatur: nationally and internationally the University of Wales is well known and retains a cachet that individual institutional names lack entirely.

It may be that the members of the university, the teachers, the students and its degree-holders, will accept this shift from collegiality to coffers with the same apparent equanimity as the court of the University of Wales.

It is doubtful that current degree-holders would accept the denigration of their hard-won awards, but then it is doubtful that many holders of the University of Wales degree are aware of the attack on their degrees. It has been a very quiet, long-term dismantling of the principle of collegiate responsibility for standards.

The national-level guarantor of standards has been destroyed from within and at the highest level. To save the standing of degree-holders, and in the absence of any internal determination to recover the original vision of a national university, the only honourable thing to do would be to close the university.

From a member of the court of the University of Wales

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