New body mooted to take reins of Welsh academy

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales could be scrapped and replaced by a new body holding full powers to govern Welsh universities under proposals welcomed by Leighton Andrews, Wales’ education minister.

March 23, 2011

An independent review of the governance of Welsh higher education, chaired by John McCormick, former secretary of the BBC, concludes that the sector must be more tightly regulated.

In a statement to the Welsh Assembly, Mr Andrews said that the review had “identified a failing in the higher education sector’s continued collective lack of commitment to address Welsh strategic priorities”.

“Institutional self-interest often predominated over national need and interest,” he added. “It is clear from the evidence presented by the review that fundamental change is unquestionably required.”

The report, Achievement and Accountability, recommends the creation of a new funding and regulatory body, Universities Wales, with powers to “take direct responsibility for maintaining the excellence of the learning, research, governance and leadership” of the sector.

The body could intervene in the event of failures of governance and performance, and would be directly accountable to the Welsh government.

Responding to the review, Noel Lloyd, chair of Higher Education Wales, said the sector would be alarmed by changes to its constitutional framework.

“We would be concerned if the legal basis of our institutions were to be affected such that it caused uncertainty for students and our partners,” he said.

Under the proposals, the “arm’s-length” body would have 12 members, six of whom would be independent from the higher education sector.

A new board would also be created, which would include civil servants, to directly oversee the delivery of Welsh higher education.

An independent think tank for the sector would also be established.

As well as funding and regulating the sector, Universities Wales would ensure that institutions carried out annual evaluations of their own governance procedures.

The review was also charged with looking into the role and future of the University of Wales after questions were raised over quality assurance at a number of its partner institutions worldwide.

Last month, the Quality Assurance Agency wrote to Mr Andrews informing him of further complaints from students at Turning Point Business School in Singapore, one of the institution’s partners. A QAA investigation is under way.

The education minister said this week’s review found that the University of Wales “posed reputational risk” to the sector and had to reform radically if it were to “add any value”.

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