Shake-up gathers pace as institutions rise to assembly's challenge

June 6, 2003

The reconfiguration of higher education in Wales is moving forwards, with two more strategic alliances in the pipeline, funding council leaders have announced.

Cash-strapped Lampeter University has signed an agreement with Trinity College Carmarthen to collaborate in a number of curriculum areas, including the development of a West Wales School of Lifelong Learning.

Meanwhile, the University of Wales College Newport and Coleg Gwent will form a joint project group to look into forging an alliance that they claim will be "unique in the UK".

Lampeter's alliance with Trinity - although several steps short of a merger - could provide a lifeline for the university, which has reported an operating deficit over the past three years due to falling student numbers and high early retirement and campus-maintenance costs.

Phil Gummett, higher education director for the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, said financial considerations were not the main reason for the alliance, although both institutions would be able to cut and share costs.

The partnership model being considered by UWCN and Gwent would see the creation of a single board to set the strategy and oversee operations of the two institutions.

Mr Gummett said it was an interesting proposal because the balance of provision between the two institutions was dominated by further education rather than higher education. Coleg Gwent has 32,000 students, while UWCN has just 9,000.

Mr Gummett said that though it was not a proposal to merge, the agreement could throw up new legal questions.

He said: "We have legislation that tells us when an institution is allowed to move from the further education sector into higher education, but what has not been tested is what would happen if you went the other way. We are saying, let's first look at what is best for students, then deal with the legal issues as they arise."

• Sir Brian Fender, former chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is to chair talks between the University of Wales Bangor and the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education on developing a new University for North Wales.

The two institutions have set up six working groups to consider the proposal.


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