Welsh 'cluster' plan attacked

January 25, 2002

Proposals for sweeping reforms to the structure of Welsh higher education came under fire this week from vice-chancellors and union leaders.

Heads of member institutions of the University of Wales voiced concern over plans to remove the federal university's degree-awarding powers and reorganise universities into five geographical "clusters".

At a special UoW meeting held to consider the proposals, published last week in the Welsh Assembly's report on its higher education review, vice-chancellors warned that such reorganisation - which might involve mergers as well as formal collaboration within the clusters - could prove counterproductive.

Lynn Williams, secretary general of the UoW, said there was support for the assembly paper's overall vision. But he added: "It was accepted that there was a contradiction between some of the proposals and the assembly's stated aim to promote collaboration and to build a system where institutions have an international standing."

The Association of University Teachers warned that the proposals could create "a new crisis for higher education in Wales".

Andrew Morgan, who chairs the AUTs Wales committee, said the "cluster" model, which would define most institutions as teaching-led and concentrate most research in Cardiff, was "a disastrous turn and stands as wholly contrary to the review's earlier statement that research is an area requiring an All-Wales emphasis".

Student union leaders at Lampeter University, which the report suggests might merge or enter into a "contractually bound consortium" with Aberystwyth University and Trinity College Carmarthen, warned that the proposals could lead to the closure of campuses and courses.

Students may be forced to commute to different locations, costing them additional time and money. The problems concerning childcare already faced by students with children and domestic responsibilities would be compounded, said Clare Pike, Lampeter student union president.

James Brownsell, president of Bangor University student union, said: "We have concerns over the impact of prospective mergers when it comes to job cuts and affecting course provision."

The assembly debated the report this week and is expected to approve a ten-year strategy by the end of February.

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