Welsh mergers

September 24, 1999

The map accompanying the story "Welsh unis face merger plan" (THES, 10 September) provides the grounds for rejecting mergers in favour of re evaluating the actions of sector leaders in quietly dismantling the Federal University of Wales. The campuses, save perhaps two in Swansea and four in Cardiff, are effectively spaced to provide suitable access but too widely separated to make mergers efficient.

Only a few years ago Wales had just two universities, the University of Wales and the University of Glamorgan, plus a handful of higher education colleges. We now have 13 university-wannabes, at least two of which, Cardiff and Swansea, are seeking their own degree-awarding powers.

The real cost of dismantling the University of Wales has surely been a loss of funds for teaching and research, as eight of the 13 Welsh institutions move to duplicate procedures once held in common and to copy functions once performed by a single administration. Nine sets of degree regulations, nine quality assurance mechanisms, nine or more databases to record details of students nominally enrolled for degrees of a single national university.

This leaves to one side the income loss associated with the appearance of a profusion of titles to replace the internationally recognised and respected University of Wales.

While mergers form a larger institution by "rationalising" the teaching and administration, federalism reduces the cost of administration and marketing and enables the growth of collaborative activities and resources across a very wide geographical area. The merger, classically, strips assets to enhance the larger partner; federalism allows institutional energies to be focused on academic as opposed to administrative and managerial issues.

Above all, mergers are about denying resources to a competitor while, under federalism, the specialisation characteristic of many of the smaller colleges can benefit all the institutions rather than only the nearest bigger entity.

It is difficult to think of a more prominent and effectively distributed cultural symbol than the University of Wales or, therefore, of a more wanton act of cultural vandalism than its surreptitious dissolution.

Andrew Morgan Swansea

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