Too big to succeed

July 26, 2012

I have yet to see or hear convincing evidence to support the idea that a three-way merger creating a "super-university" for South East Wales would deliver higher quality, greater choice or enhanced value to Wales or to students ("Merge or dissolve - Andrews plays his cards in Cardiff Met row", www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, 17 July).The premise seems to be that bigger would be better and that Cardiff Met is too small to survive. Yet there are other small institutions that thrive.

Of the three institutions under threat of merger (the others being the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport), Cardiff Met is the highest ranked with the best levels of international student satisfaction. In the words of Sir Steve Smith, the former Universities UK head who has written a report on the merger for the Welsh government, the institution is "well led and financially sound".

Smith's backing of the merger seems to be drawn from an acknowledgement that the Welsh funding formula will punish Cardiff Met, that recruitment has been affected by questions about the merger, and that in the medium term life will be difficult. My understanding is that Unison and the students' union are against it, while the University and College Union has yet to quiz staff. Non-union staff have not been consulted by Leighton Andrews, the minister who has masterminded the merger, or by Smith, but I am yet to speak to anyone at the university who is in favour of the plan.

Where is the evidence that bigger is better? Education is undergoing a technological revolution. We need to be agile, flexible, innovative and fleet of foot, not a monolithic "super-uni". Smith states that Cardiff Met cannot continue as it is, but any dynamic organisation is in a constant state of flux and the university is no different, responding creatively to new learning, research and enterprise agendas.

People learn and perform best when they have a degree of autonomy, when the institutions where they study are human-sized. Equally, competition brings innovation and value. Monopolies go stale.

Tom Peters, the business management "guru", has noted that seven out of 10 mergers destroy value. Creating one super-university is precisely the wrong answer.

Olwen Moseley, Principal lecturer, teaching fellow, Cardiff Metropolitan University

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