Lecturers' union Natfhe is pushing for the creation of a 50,000-student super-university in Wales as a bulwark against large English institutions out to poach staff and students. It plans to call for the merger of all post-92 universities in Wales in response to a review of new institutions in the southeast of the country, which was announced by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales before Christmas.
Natfhe said establishing a super-university might be the only way to combat growing competition from English institutions, and to avoid course closures and job cuts. If an all-Wales federal post-92 university were created, it would rival the larger English universities in size. More than half of its students would be part time.
Margaret Phelan, Natfhe's regional officer for Wales, said: "We do not think the sector as it stands can continue to survive in a healthy state, which means there will be redundancies if nothing is done."
Natfhe wants to build on recent talks about a possible merger between the University of Wales Institute Cardiff and the University of Wales Newport by drawing the other five post-92 institutions in Wales into the discussions. On the day Hefcw launched its review, Uwic said it was exploring four options for closer collaboration with Newport.
This follows the controversial collapse of merger talks between Uwic and Glamorgan University. An audit by the funding council found that a row between the two institutions' vice-chancellors over who should lead the new university was a key factor in the failure.
Ms Phelan said it was hoped that lessons learnt from the audit would enable a more ambitious, pan-Wales proposal to emerge. She said Natfhe would urge the funding council to be more proactive in the progress of any future merger discussions.
Hefcw said an independent panel was to be commissioned to conduct the review of provision in southeast Wales.