A row between the vice-chancellors of Glamorgan University and the University of Wales Institute Cardiff that led to the collapse of merger talks could now cost lecturers their jobs, lecturers' union Natfhe said this week.
Merger talks broke down in December last year because senior managers and governors at the institutions could not agree on who should lead the proposed new institution or on whether it should be part of the federal University of Wales, a new funding council audit report reveals.
Uwic heads wanted to go ahead with an informal deal struck with Glamorgan governors at a meeting in a hotel the year before.
Under the deal, Sir Adrian Webb, Glamorgan's vice-chancellor, would lead the merged university for a year and then hand the reins to Tony Chapman, Uwic's vice-chancellor, for the following two or three years, before the post was opened to competition.
This arrangement was not formally agreed, and the two sides fell out when Glamorgan's governors reneged on the deal and insisted that the job should go immediately to open competition with outside assessors.
The audit report from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales says that once this impasse was reached, governing body meetings continued to repeat "widely differing resolutions" over the issue until the merger plan was dropped.
The collapse of talks has meant the loss of more than £226,000 invested by the HEFCW in the proposed merger, as well as "significant" staff time and resources at both institutions.
It also "resulted in a breakdown of trust" that has made it "extremely difficult for the institutions to work cooperatively".
The report adds that governors and staff now agree it would be near-impossible to reopen merger discussions "such is the lack of trust and mutual vision between the two institutions".
But union leaders this week urged the funding council to take steps to support renewed merger talks, warning that without a merger both institutions were financially vulnerable and could be forced to make compulsory redundancies.
Margaret Phelan, lecturers' union Natfhe regional official for Wales, said the merger collapse was "down to a couple of individuals" and was over "personal issues" that should not be allowed to get in the way of saving jobs. "As far as we are concerned, the case for merger is still there," she said.
Janet Ryder, education spokeswoman for Plaid Cymru, said the failure of the merger was due to "a great deal of heavy-handedness being applied from several sides" - including the Welsh Assembly, which has made progress on mergers a condition of additional funding.
She added: "The union's concern about jobs underlines the problems facing the sector, which are not being helped by the Assembly."
The report suggests that the disagreements over appointing a vice-chancellor of the merged institution were more insurmountable than deciding whether the new university should be part of the federal University of Wales.
Differences over this between Glamorgan, which is not a federal member, and Uwic, which is, could have been resolved with the use of a new category of "linked" membership, created last March to accommodate Cardiff University's merger with the University of Wales College of Medicine, the report says.