A new university – the largest higher education institution in Wales – has been officially launched.
The University of South Wales has been created by the merger of Glamorgan and Newport universities. It is the sixth largest university in the UK, with about 33,500 students and includes campuses in Cardiff, as well as Newport and Treforest.
University heads say they hope its size will benefit students and let it invest in new courses and facilities. But union leaders say staff fear for their job security.
The new university is among the top 10 campus universities in the UK for size and will offer more than 580 undergraduate courses. Plans were abandoned in November 2012 to force a three-way merger with Cardiff Metropolitan University, which opposed the idea.
Its creation comes after a drive led by the Welsh government to rearrange higher education in Wales and provide fewer universities.
Officials claim the new institution will rival Cardiff University in terms of size and provide the scale to produce additional benefits for students, staff and the local economy, while also developing a global profile.
Its vice-chancellor, Prof Julie Lydon, said the merged institution was now a major UK university “clearly very rooted in our local communities but globally connected”.
“We are very proud of our experience as being a university for careers, a university that works with businesses very effectively.
“94% of our graduates are in employment or further study within six months of graduation, and we don’t want to do anything that would disturb that.”
The vice-chancellor said in the longer term, it would look to expand its activities, especially in the fields of science and technology.
“The coming together of the two universities must be more than just the sum of the parts. I think fully realising that vision is not something you can do overnight,” Prof Lydon told BBC Radio Wales.
She did not see the size of the new university as a problem.
“I think size is important is this context,” she said. “If you look at the competitive environment of higher education both within the UK and beyond the UK what you’re seeing is actually, I think, quite a divergence.
“You’re seeing institutions of size and scale – they have sufficient breadth and capability to develop. I think it’s really great for us that we have the size and scale and breadth of provision to support the whole of south Wales.”
Prof Lydon also hinted that the door might still be open for Cardiff Metropolitan University if it wanted to merge with the new university at a later date.
“I’m sure we will continue to have dialogue with them,” she said.
However, the union Unison said its members feared the creation of a “two-tier” workforce with people doing the same job on different terms and conditions.
Regional organiser Gareth John said: “Any merger of this nature will inevitably leave the workforce feeling vulnerable over their job security, and that feeling is not being made any better by the fact that the new university will not commit to no out-sourcing and no compulsory redundancies.
“We are also aware that senior managers already know whether they still have a post within the new university, whereas our members are completely unaware of how their posts will be affected or, longer term, whether they will still have a job at all.”
Verity Worthington, from Newport University’s students union, said: “I think there is that fear that Glamorgan are going to come and take over and we’ll lose the community we have here at Newport, because that’s something that’s important to us here.”
Education Minister Leighton Andrews said it opened “a new chapter in the history of Welsh higher education”.
“All of those who have worked hard to create this new institution should be recognised and celebrated,” he said.
“It will bring huge benefits to learners and south east Wales as a whole. It represents a significant step towards meeting our commitment to establishing a smaller number of stronger universities in Wales.” (BBC)