Friday, 7 October 2011

More adventures in Wales

The situation in Wales continues to provide interesting illustrations of the intersection between university autonomy, regulation and pure politics.

Firstly, let's consider the clarification issued by the University itself. Whilst validation of other providers' courses will cease, franchising will continue. Terminology in this area is not always used consistently, but broadly a validation arrangement is where the university has not designed the course and does not deliver it itself: it merely provides a quality assurance service on courses designed and delivered by others. In franchising, however, an existing on-campus programme is delivered wholesale and (theoretically) unchanged by another provider on another site. Clearly, the number of programmes you have on your own site sets the limit for the number of programmes you can franchise, whereas you can validate as many programmes as you like, regardless of what you do on your own site. Given that the new University of Wales will have rather few on-campus programmes, simply because it will be rather a small university, the idea that the franchise provision will be bigger than the current validation business is a a little far-fetched.

Secondly, consider the challenge by other Welsh institutions to the continuing use of the University of Wales name:
Prof Richard B. Davies, Swansea University vice-chancellor, said it welcomed the merger of UoW with Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University, which was announced on Monday.
"However, this new institution cannot and should not be called the University of Wales," he said.
"It does not represent higher education in Wales, it does not represent Welsh higher education abroad, and it will comprise of only two relatively small institutions in the Swansea hinterland.
The vice-chancellors of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan and Swansea, who are known as the St David's Day Group, said: "The changes announced this week by the University of Wales represent a fundamental change to the university's mission and the institution now needs a new title which reflects this considerably changed role - we are no longer able to accept it as the University of Wales."
You can see their point, really. The analogy would be if the University of West London were to merge with the University of London, sell off Senate House, and carry on calling itself 'The University of London'. Leighton Andrews, the Minister, has almost complete personal power here. If he dissolves Swansea Metropolitan University and the University of Wales Trinity St David (as currently planned) then the surviving institution will have no power to call itself anything but 'The University of Wales' unless he lets it. On the other hand the institutions cannot merge at all unless he merges them, as they have no power to dissolve themselves. He therefore has it in his power to thwart either party completely.

In mergers I have been involved in myself, the name of the merged institution has been resolved in the infamous smoke-filled room, and some odd compromises have emerged in consequence. I shall make no predictions about how this one ends. 

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