Can we abandon 70,000 students?

Sion Williams continues the public correspondence on the future of the University of Wales

Annwyl Geraint,

Your living will is at least a little more reasonable than the uninformed rantings that have appeared on the websites of the BBC and Golwg360 and in Golwg itself and the Western Mail. It does, however,
show a surprising ignorance of an institution which you had supposedly investigated as a member of the committee that produced the McCormick Report.

How can any university which is a degree-awarding body be wound up in “a year’s time”? The university has a duty of care above all to the students enrolled on its degree courses and must see them through to the completion of their studies. Or do you want to abandon 70,000 students?

Do you really think that Aberystwyth University has the resources to maintain the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies? The University of Wales currently pumps hundreds of thousands of pounds
annually into the Centre if you look at the University accounts (which I assume you must have done). Might Aberysteyth University be tempted to treat it in the same lamentable way that it has treated Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER): asset-stripping and extensive redundancies? IGER used to be world-renowned. And is not Aberystwyth University itself now ‘tainted’ by press reports of senior finance officials on ‘gardening leave’ and a missing million (see the Cambrian News, 13 October)?

The University of Wales does not own Gregynog Hall: it is the property of the Margaret Davies Foundation. They might want a say in what happens to it!

It also seems to have escaped your scrutiny that much of the reserves of the University of Wales are specific endowments tied to particular functions. They cannot legally be redeployed to suit other purposes – however noble they may be. The Charity Commissioners would not permit it. The uncommitted
reserves are not nearly enough to do what you suggest – and would certainly not produce a sustainable income.

You may not have noticed, but the Council of the University of Wales has been distributing the ‘legacy’, as you call it, for the benefit of HE and the Welsh economy by funding many new chairs in various institutions
throughout Wales, by establishing the POWIS scheme (until it was sabotaged by those who should have Wales’ interests at heart), by supporting the Eisteddfod, and by supporting the various pan-Wales
University of Wales institutions the McCormick Report said should be supported nationally. Incidentally, these justify the retention of the name University of Wales for the new combined university, which will continue to be far more than just a ‘regional’ university like all the others which have sacrificed the right to represent the whole of Wales. Why are they carping on about the damage to the reputation of Wales when they have rejected any connection with Wales?

In any case, you should know that if the University is wound up, because it is a chartered institution its comparatively meagre assets would in fact pass to the Crown. What help would that be for Wales?

The only people who have been responsible for ‘tainting’ the University of Wales and bringing the name of Wales into disrepute are the Minister for Education, who seems to speak before he thinks – or at least before he has the evidence to permit him to think. Meanwhile, many news reports have been inaccurate and unsubstantiated and others have been coupled with innuendo and downright lies (see the news item in Welsh dated 2 October 2011: “wedi i raglen Week In Week Out BBC Cymru ddatgelu bod sefydliadau ym Malaysia a Gwlad Thai yn cynnig graddau ffug yn enw’r brifysgol”. No-one has ever suggested that the University of Wales degrees awarded were in any way false nor that they were awarded incorrectly. In fact, as far as I am aware, no-one has produced any evidence of malpractice or mismanagement at the University of Wales itself, whether staff, Council or Chair of Council. Presumably, the ‘mismanagement’ consists of believing the QAA reports about the various overseas institutions (the Malaysian one having just been given a clean bill of health by the QAA when the first BBC programme was transmitted).

Did the McCormick Committee do any serious research, or did it just base its findings on interviews with the University of Wales’ enemies. That is to say, those who originally steered it towards more overseas validation work in order to reduce their own validation costs and who tried – as members of its Council – to weaken it so that it could not compete with their own institutions? Have you noticed how the salaries of the Vice Chancellors of the newly-detatched institutions are so much greater than those of the Principals of the old colleges?

It has even been suggested recently that the Minister influenced a supposedly independent HEFCW report to him. Can you confirm that the McCormick Report was entirely independent?

And why do those letters ‘BBC’ keep cropping up?


Sion Williams

5 thoughts on “Can we abandon 70,000 students?

  1. Sion, I am happy to stand corrected on the timing. You are almost certainly right that it would take more than a year to unwind the University of Wales’s validation arrangements and to make other arrangements for its key constituent assets. The McCormick Review, which, I can confirm, was entirely independent, did posit a longer timetable but, under one option, envisaged the university ceasing to recruit new students on any of its validated programmes from September 2012. Of course, there is a duty of care to students enrolled on UoW courses.

    But I do not accept many of your further points, many of which seem to me to be matters for negotiation. For instance, it is not uncommon for ways to be found to unravel endowment funds in the event of an institution ceasing to exist. More importantly, I do notice that nowhere do you address the kernel of the argument that the University of Wales is an institution which, by its name, is bound to be seen as a national brand, carrying the implication of a primacy that is not based on fact – and that this creates an undesirable confusion in the market and the public mind.

  2. Dear Geraint,

    I would be grateful if you could point out any member of the public that is “undesirably confused”. The fact of the matter is that when the public discover all the political arm wrestling that has been going on behind the scenes, I think you’ll find that they will come out in support of the University of Wales.

    The Minister for Education is on record on Twitter abusing his position by mudslinging at the University. Yes, the BBC connection is also very interesting and all of this should be exposed for the corruption that it is.

    There are many companies and Scholars attached to the POWIS scheme that are all in danger of being tarred with the dirty brush that you are using. I can assure you that these companies have already been in discussions and have unanimously come out in support if the University and have turned their attentions to WEFO, The Minister for Education and the BBC. Of course, this kind of backlash would not have been considered by the politically impotent idiots that have created this situation. Let me assure you though that we will not see over a hundred years of Welsh Heritage be flushed down the pan, and frankly Sir, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  3. Dear Sion, Congratulations on highlighting a perspective neglected by virtually all commentators – the interests of the students. So far, the University of Wales has been talked about as if it were a corpse being picked over in the street. None of the asset-grabbers have balanced their claims over assets with the question of treatment of liabilities – which should start with caring for the existing students.

    The question of the institution’s name is certainly not one which should be answered in any way by its competitors, or those with conflicted interests trying to asset strip on their behalf. While Geraint Talfan Davies notices you do not mention this issue, he himself fails to respond to your question over the role of the BBC in generating these issues. However, this saga does seem peppered with current and ex-BBC employees, from Week In Week Out, through McCormick all the way to the Senedd. All this coming from an apparent public-service broadcaster which appears to be obsessed with the University of Wales rather than schools standards, tuition fees or other education issues that impact far harder upon the people of Wales. Smokescreen?

  4. Jack Huws

    I have two degrees from UoW colleges and I feel my rights as a student should have been protected. Unfortunately, I perceive the damage to my reputation has already been done. I wish there was some legal remedy but alas.

    By the way – how much does Prof Clement now earn? Hasn’t he done well!

    Thanks Jack!

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