The United Kingdom’s Higher Education Council for Wales announced in the closing days of 2010 that there should be just six (not the current eleven) Universities in Wales. While they did not state which of those venerable education institutions were most likely to be affected, the bottom line is that the loss of any functional education institution is a tragedy in terms of the time and effort taken to establish it, and the loss of a unique tradition too.
Students who may not be able to afford to travel longer distances may see their education hopes cut short. Those that can afford the extra cost will now spend more time chatting in trains and buses than studying. Why the need to do this at a time when Wales is already suffering a brain drain and skills are scarce?
Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews was blunt and to the point when he said that universities must adapt or die if they could not remain economically competitive. This is a far cry from days when the job of Universities was to teach, not make a profit, and student leaders are justifiably outraged.
BBC Wales Education Correspondent Ciaran Jenkins interprets the announcement as proof that a government desperately short of money is dissatisfied with progress towards significantly fewer Welsh Universities by 2013. This time they have spelled out the target without mincing words, and the question is no longer if but when the change will happen. Jenkins expects that the mergers will be regionalized and that in the end there will be two universities each in the mid lands and the north, the south east and the south west respectively. The survivors will be required to produce income in excess of the United Kingdom national average too.
Analysts are already predicting the closure of Glyndwr University in the midlands and the merging of Swansea Metropolitan and Trinity Saint David in the south west. South eastern Wales remains an enigma although some pundits are anticipating marriages of inconvenience between the University of Wales Newport and the University of Wales Institute Cardiff on one hand, and the larger Cardiff and Glamorgan Universities on the other. Hopefully the losers will be retained as satellite bases for the winners, and be kick started again in more prosperous times
It was a sad day indeed for Wales when the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Council made its announcement in the closing days of the last decade. Who can tell how far this may set back the program back to inspire pride in the Welsh heritage, and what long-term damage may be done to the region’s education base? President of the National Union of Students in Wales Katie Dalton summed up the general feeling when she remarked that mergers [of universities] should not lead to cuts in delivery nor impact on disabled` … and the poorest students either.