Funding for a new campus in the valleys of South Wales has been announced by the Welsh Education Minister.
The University of the Heads of the Valleys will be run jointly by the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport.
The money for the first year of the joint initiative, under which 80 distance-learning places will be offered in the next academic year, was announced by Jane Hutt as part of her response to an independent review of the purpose and role of higher education in Wales.
The review, chaired by Merfyn Jones, vice-chancellor of Bangor University, warned that the principality’s economic future was at risk unless more money was invested in higher education.
Pointing out that less is spent on higher education in Wales than in the rest of Britain, it said: “Closing the gap may take a number of years and is particularly challenging in light of the current economic climate. However, on this hangs nothing less than the future reputation and prosperity of Wales.”
In her response, Ms Hutt announced a “manifesto” for higher education that would encourage universities to help “boost the economy and spread social justice”.
As part of this, the Assembly Government would change its approach to the National Bursary Framework for Wales and examine new ways to provide foundation degrees. Ms Hutt also expressed “full support” for proposals for a new federal college to oversee Welsh-medium higher education. This institution would not award its own degrees but would work with existing universities.
The review was not well received by the University and College Union Cymru. A spokesman called it “hugely disappointing”.
“It skirts over the most pressing issues, such as the funding gap, collaboration and reconfiguration, and the relationship between higher education institutions and public policy,” he said.
He warned that unless the Welsh Assembly set a clear direction for the sector, there was be “a real danger that this will be a missed opportunity for higher education in Wales. The minister must clearly set out a programme to close the funding gap, begin a dialogue on a new form of democratic governance at our institutions and support a broad diversity of disciplines across the sector.”