Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The University of Wales

Like many English people, to my shame I am only intermittently aware of Wales. My reaction on reading that the University of Wales was to get out of the validation business was therefore one of bewilderment. What else does it do? This is on a par with Apple getting out of the consumer electronics business. You can see from the accounts that over £10 million of the 9/10 revenue (which was only just over £15 million in total) came from this source - more if you count the federal support grants from University of Wales member institutions and the Funding Council grants that presumably relate mostly to this function.

Had I paid as much attention to events in Welsh HE as their importance deserves, I would have understood already that the real picture here is a merger between the University of Wales, Swansea Metropolitan University and the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David. The new VC of the University of Wales was, last week, VC of  The University of Wales: Trinity Saint David. Whilst the University of Wales will provide the title and the constitutional shell of the merged institution, the actual organisation that currently goes by that name will virtually cease to exist. This kind of reverse takeover is particularly a Welsh speciality: the University of Cardiff is the seminal example.

For us Londoners, the continued saga of the University of London provides an interesting parallel. When I worked at an institution within the federal university of London structure, the sense was that a break-up of the University would favour the largest colleges - especially UCL. This Welsh example shows that it needn't necessarily be so - Trinity and Swansea Met are two of the smallest institutions in Wales - even put together they are smaller than Aberystwyth. With the VC of the University of London having recently resigned - apparently because the job was too much like hard work - all kinds of possibilities are thrown open. 


  1. I live in Wales, and I've had links with Wales all my life. I do follow higher ed. in Wales stories, though with, increasingly, a mix of boredom and incredulity...

    I assumed the UofW decided to stop validating in the face of inquiries into scandals.

    But I'm not in the loop these days.

  2. Clenmati

    Thanks for your comment. I don't pretend to understand the reasons: clearly the scandals have played a role amongst other factors such as the policy of the Welsh Assembly Government, but I am happy to defer to the better informed.

    My interest is that the practical dissolution of the UofW structure provides an interesting precedent for London.

  3. Oh I wouldn't say I actually know, Andrew. But the way it's been reported here by BBC Wales suggests it.

    I don't know what's happening in London (i.e. U of London) these days. I do find it a little difficult to see UofW as a template for it -- but a precedent, yes. But could London really stop validating external degrees?

  4. Well the central University of London is about ten times the size of UofW - it turns over about £150 million. The external programme (and remaining quality processes for colleges that award the UoL degree) is a much smaller part of what it does. I understand it is landlord for many of the colleges, for instance, and there is more research activity.

    I think overall the external programme is less than a third of the income, not more than two thirds as in the UoW case.

    So yes, clearly the cases are different and we are talking about a precedent rather than a template.

  5. "The external programme (and remaining quality processes for colleges that award the UoL degree) is a much smaller part of what it does."

    But it's still massive. And the "London International Degree" is still, it seems, important. I find it hard to believe the Wales-validated degrees are comparable.

    There's now, incidentally -- following the latest scandal -- a call for UofW to cease to exist even in name. Cardiff etc. don't want to be associated,as universities in Wales, with the University of Wales.