Assembly urges NEWI scrutiny

January 21, 2000

The Welsh Assembly has bolstered its tough stance on university mismanagement by ordering an inquiry into complaints against the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education in Wrexham.

The investigation, into "wide-ranging and serious" allegations from staff and students, will embarrass Wales's vice-chancellors as NEWI's principal, John Williams, is the chair of the Welsh grouping of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

The move comes less than three months after the Welsh Assembly set itself apart from Westminster with demands for an annual "assurance statement" on each institution from the funding council.

Allegations by staff and students of mismanagement at NEWI were passed to the assembly's secretary for education and training, Tom Middlehurst, by Wrexham Labour MP John Marek.

In a letter to Dr Marek last month, Mr Middlehurst wrote: "I agree the allegations are wide-ranging and serious and I have therefore asked the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to instigate an investigation."

Details are sketchy. Dr Marek said he was not making allegations, but simply passing on concerns raised by staff and students. "Over the last year, I have had staff and students come to me saying that not all is well. It could be said NEWI's board of governors is too business dominated and that sometimes education is lost as the purpose of the institution."

He confirmed that one area of concern is the introduction of fixed-term contracts, which has created widespread job insecurity.

Lecturers' union Natfhe has passed an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Professor Williams.

The Welsh funding council declined to comment. But a spokesman for NEWI said:

"We can confirm a visit from the Welsh funding council audit section is taking place. The board of governors has said it will cooperate fully with their inquiry."

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