The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has said that there are too many universities in Wales for “optimal effectiveness” and that it wants to see substantially fewer.
Welsh Assembly education secretary Leighton Andrews said some institutions are too small to “cut a mark internationally” and in danger of wasting resources by competing with neighbours.The announcement came as part of the council’s strategy for 2010 to 2013, released on 29 June, which was produced in response to the Assembly Government’s plan for higher education.
Andrews said that under the strategy HEFCW would ensure the proportion of institutions in Wales with annual income above the UK median would rise from 36 per cent to 75 per cent, and with none in the lower quartile.
“This target does not mean fewer students,” he said in a statement. “But it is likely to mean fewer vice chancellors. We will have significantly fewer HE institutions in Wales but they will be larger and stronger.”
Wales has 12 higher education institutions. The University of Wales Registry, Trinity University College Carmarthen, Swansea Metropolitan University and Glyndwr University bring in the lowest incomes, all less than £40m in 2008-09.
Noel Lloyd, chairman of Higher Education Wales, the Welsh branch of the vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, said that discussions were ongoing about future “collaborations” between Trinity University College, Swansea Metropolitan University, and three further education colleges in South West Wales. The University of Wales, Newport is working with regional FE college partners, he added.
The government’s plan also demanded that the funding council should channel 80 per cent of its funding, which it currently delivers based on the Research Assessment Exercise and Quality Related assessment, into areas it has identified as priorities. The strategy says HEFCW’s plan is to consolidate funding around “strong, research active universities”.
Andrews added that this will mean the council devising a new method for funding research this year that, from 2011-12, will “support a sharper focus on areas of national priority, and critical mass”.HEFCW says it is aiming to boost Welsh universities’ ability to attract research funding, especially from the UK research councils, from which Welsh universities often struggle to win bids without English partners.
The council wants universities that “take risks, withstand shocks and remain innovative into the longer term,” says the strategy, which also targets boosting knowledge transfer and includes an aim to increase the number of spin-off companies that are still active after three years by 10 per cent by 2012-13.HEFCW also wants to see universities and further education colleges working together more, and improve research performance at international standards of excellence, “with stronger links to users and other beneficiaries”.