Welsh research base is 'weak', Swansea admits

January 31, 2008

A lack of research quality in its universities is harming Wales's prospects for greater economic growth, the Welsh Assembly has been told.

The Assembly's Enterprise and Learning Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the economic contribution of higher education in Wales.

As part of the inquiry, the committee took evidence from Swansea University. In its written submission, the institution painted a gloomy picture of the science base in the principality.

"Unfortunately, Wales has a comparatively weak university research base in science and engineering," it said.

It used figures from the last research assessment exercise in 2001, which show that while Scotland has 354 academic staff per million of the population working in top-rated 5 and 5* science departments, England has 228 and Wales has just 101.

"The evident disparity with England is not an Oxbridge/London effect. England had more than twice as many scientists and engineers working in world-class departments as Wales, while Scotland had three and a half times as many, even allowing for population size," it said.

In its submission, Swansea points to the relatively small size of Welsh universities as one barrier to research success.

"The smallest UK universities with substantial science parks are, to the best of our knowledge: Dundee (£57 million research income in 2004-05); York (£54 million) and Surrey (£43 million).

"The latest figures for Wales show that only Cardiff (which has £113 million in research income) was large enough in 2005-06," the submission said.

- Swansea Institute has been given permission by the Privy Council to change its name to Swansea Metropolitan University.

Swansea Metropolitan University began life as two institutions: the town's School of Art, founded in 1853, and its teacher training college, set up in 1872. They evolved into the Swansea Institute in 1992, and the institution's quest for a university title began two years ago.


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