Welsh universities agree to cut numbers to six by 2013

University leaders in Wales have signalled they will cooperate with proposals to halve the number of Welsh institutions.

Higher Education Wales (HEW), which says it represents 12 universities, has agreed they need them to be "fewer but stronger".

But HEW said any mergers should be for the particular university governing bodies to decide.

The Welsh Government has welcomed HEW's "positive statement".

Professor Noel Lloyd, chair of Higher Education Wales and vice chancellor of Aberystwyth University, told BBC Wales HE institutions had to become as efficient as possible.

"We have this hugely competitive environment and we have to be as a sector as strong as possible to deliver to our utmost ability in Wales," he said.

"That means taking a strongly strategic approach to future development."

Last December Education Minister Leighton Andrews warned universities that they must "adapt or die".

His comments came after an assembly government sponsored body, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), said the number of institutions should be reduced to make the sector sustainable.

HEFCW, which is responsible for administering funds from the Welsh Government for higher education institutions, said by 2013 distribution should reflect regional needs with no more than two institutions in each region.

Wales had 15 higher education institutions in 2000, including the Open University in Wales.

Following an alliance between the University of Glamorgan and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the merger of the Wales College of Medicine and Cardiff University, and the merger between Trinity University College, Carmarthen and University of Wales, Lampeter, it currently has 12.

On Friday, HEW committee members agreed the "challenges facing higher education are of an unprecedented nature" and said "we have to move fast in order to meet these challenges".

They said: "In this changed environment we are working with the approach of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Welsh Government on the size and shape of the university sector."

'Successful universities'

Universities UK, the representative body for universities across the UK, welcomed "the leadership being shown by colleagues in Wales".

President Professor Sir Steve Smith said: "The direction of travel set out in this statement is unmistakable.

"This is clearly a significant statement of intent from the body representing Wales' university leaders."

Peter Jones from the UCU lecturers' union said they supported the development as there are no compulsory redundancies.

"Our concern would be that the quality of teaching and research doesn't suffer. We need a breadth and depth of subject matters. We're not necessarily against it, but we need a wide and deep education service for students," he said.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We welcome HEW's positive statement, their recognition of the need for fewer, stronger and more successful universities and their commitment to reconfiguration for the benefit of the Welsh higher education sector."

NUS Wales said it also welcomed the 'positive' statement.

But it also warned institutions they must develop an ongoing dialogue with their students' unions during merger negotiations to minimise disturbance for students.

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