In The Future Shape of Higher Education in Wales, a briefing paper published last month, funding chiefs also say that the location of universities should “reflect regional needs” with no more than two per region by 2013.
Each region should have a research-intensive university, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales says, as well as “strong community/widening access focused provision”. In addition, no more than two Welsh institutions should have an income below the UK median, and neither of these should be in the densely populated south-east.
There are currently 11 higher education institutions in Wales, 10 of them universities.
Pressure for structural change has been growing in recent months, with Leighton Andrews, the education minister for Wales, warning the sector that future funding could depend on institutions’ willingness to merge.
Mr Andrews, who recently announced that Welsh students would be shielded from tuition-fee rises, said earlier this month that Welsh universities had to “adapt or die”.
Plans are already under way for a merger between Swansea Metropolitan University and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
The two institutions would keep separate names but unify under a single organisational structure. They also hope to involve further education colleges from the area to establish a “regional educational group”.
Responding to Hefcw’s plans for the sector, Katie Dalton, president of National Union of Students in Wales, said it was “absolutely imperative that the Welsh higher education sector maintain its diversity, bearing in mind that different students need different types of institutions. Mergers should not lead to cuts in delivery or reduced access for less mobile students. Any campus closures and cuts to local provision could impact on disabled students, those with caring responsibilities and the poorest students who cannot afford to move away for university.”