Controversial plans to “dissolve” a Welsh university against its wishes have today been scrapped. Education Minister Leighton Andrews has cancelled with “immediate effect” a consultation on the planned dissolution of Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Despite reiterating his desire to see a single post-1992 university in South-East Wales, Mr Andrews said he did not want to hamper the “excellent progress” being made by Glamorgan and Newport. The two institutions announced in July their intention to create a “beacon institution” that would be similar in size to Cardiff University.
If approved, it would represent one of the biggest mergers ever seen in Welsh education, and bring together five campuses and more than 30,000 students. Mr Andrews told Assembly Members the universities expect to be able to present a full business case as early as next month, with a means to merging in April next year.
But the decision to scrap dissolution plans is a surprise given months of wrangling between the Welsh Government and Cardiff Met over the legality of an enforced merger with nearby Glamorgan and Newport.
Mr Andrews has long stressed his desire for voluntary collaboration within Wales’ university system, but Cardiff Met’s reluctance to comply to a three-way merger without a costed business case led to stronger action. The plan has been dogged by controversy, with official documents suggesting there was no evidence to favour any particular outcome in South-East Wales.
Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Chair of Governors Barbara Wilding CBE QPM welcomed the decision.
She said: “The University is pleased that the Welsh Government has decided to cancel with immediate effect the statutory consultation process involving the dissolution of Cardiff Metropolitan University which we believe was legally and financially flawed.
“The proposals put forward for the reconfiguration of the Higher Education sector in South-East Wales did not contain enough evidence to enable the Governors to take such a decision about any reconfiguration option.
“We are pleased to read that the voluntary merger between the Universities of Glamorgan and Newport will continue, and Cardiff Metropolitan would wish our colleagues at those universities every success. It is our intention to engage enthusiastically with the new university and also to do all we can to explore new ways of working with all education partners in the region.
” We shall reflect on the Minister’s statement before commenting further. Cardiff Metropolitan University is a successful, innovative and financially strong University. That is very much due to the outstanding work and dedication of its students, staff and governors.”
Responding to the statement Angela Burns AM, shadow minister for education, said: “This is a massive climb-down for the Education Minister, but a win for diplomacy over belligerence and aggression.
“This entire sorry saga sends a clear message to the Education Minister that bully boy tactics do not work and the future of Higher Education should be based on collaboration and co-operation not enforced mergers.
“The Minister and his Labour colleagues have been taking every opportunity to run down Cardiff Met and pit universities against each other in a way which threatened to tarnish the reputation of the Welsh Higher Education sector.
“I welcome his move to allow the Universities of Glamorgan and Newport to develop their business case for a merger to provide certainty to students and staff.
“We now need to let Glamorgan and Newport continue to proceed with their merger plans and allow Cardiff Met the freedom to build on its position as Wales’ top performing post-92 universities.”
Cardiff Met’s chairwoman of governors Barbara Wilding has previously threatened to report Mr Andrews’ office to the Public Accounts Committee, while the university has taken legal advice over a possible High Court challenge.
Cardiff Met, which voted unanimously to maintain its independence, has criticised Mr Andrews for failing to provide “a single piece of evidence” to support the proposed merger. Although subject to consultation, the minister has previously said that dissolution was the “likely course” that will unfold in South-East Wales.
The reconfiguration of higher education has been high on the Welsh Government’s agenda for more than a decade, though the plan was given new life in December 2010. A subsequent 2011 report on future structure – by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw) – suggested merging Cardiff Met with Glamorgan and Newport universities. It is not clear what today’s announcement means for Cardiff Met’s long-term future. (Wales Online)