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

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