Speaking at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education Conference in Cardiff, Leighton Andrews called for the merger of the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Metropolitan University and University of Wales, Newport
In its response to the proposals in October, Cardiff Metropolitan, formerly known as the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, rejected the merger plan.
The minister said on 16 December that Wales needed “high ambition” in the sector, not “parochial small-mindedness”.
The merger could create “one of the most powerful post-92 institutions in the whole of the United Kingdom, second only in size to Manchester Metropolitan University,” Mr Andrews added.
“It would be an institution with real critical mass, a strong overseas recruitment driver and with a deeper and stronger research base.”
The reforms to Welsh higher education involve the formation of a new funding and planning body with greater powers over universities.
Mr Andrews said that was nothing in the manifesto of the incoming government “that says that that planning and funding body could not be chaired by the minister”.
If progress towards “reconfiguration” was not as fast as envisaged by the funding council, “the legislation we introduce may have to be more dirigiste than I currently imagine,” Mr Andrews warned.
He also rejected the English model of competition among institutions.
“I have said before that in Wales, we prefer to plan our higher education provision, not leave it to the market,” he said.
“The higher education sector in the UK stands on the verge of one of the most radical transformations in its history. The competitive market in England will have implications for us in Wales.”
He said this meant choosing between a “market route” or a “smaller number of stronger universities” that could be brought about through mergers.