Concerns over University of Wales degree changes

The University of Wales has 70,000 students worldwide

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Around 70,000 students around the world are facing uncertainty after the University of Wales announced plans to stop validating degree courses.

It follows BBC Wales uncovering worries over several centres overseas which ran courses leading to the university's degrees.

The 120-year-old institution will now consist of just Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan Universities.

The National Union of Students said undergraduates would have "concerns".

But newly-appointed vice-chancellor Prof Medwin Hughes said the University of Wales' current commitments would be honoured.

The Welsh government had previously said the university, which had five affiliated member institutions in Wales and approved colleges abroad, had brought Wales "into disrepute" and a watchdog criticised "significant failings".

'Urge clarity'

Following Monday's announcement, the National Union of Students (NUS) said thousands of undergraduates would want to know what it would mean for their degrees from the university.

They include those who are studying at Glyndwr University in Wrexham, University of Wales Institute Cardiff (Uwic) and Newport University, which currently award University of Wales degrees.

ANALYSIS

Ciaran Jenkins, BBC Wales education correspondent

From next September the University of Wales will become just two small universities in the south west - Swansea Metropolitan University and Trinity Saint David.

A national institution since 1893 will become quite a small local institution.

This is significant because the University of Wales is at present the second largest university in the UK, with 70,000 students studying its courses in 130 colleges around the world. It is going to be difficult for it to justify itself as a university for the whole of Wales.

The degree validation programme was a massive money-spinner for the university, accounting for something like 60-65% of income.

This time last year BBC Wales lifted the lid on some of its partners when we found a Malaysian pop star with two bogus degrees who was running one a partner college in Kuala Lumpur and another one in Thailand operating illegally.

Since then there have been a series of reviews which have not been particularly favourable to the university.

Suddenly, two days before a new BBC Wales investigation - Week In Week Out at 20:30 BST on BBC One Wales on Wednesday - which will reveal fresh and very serious allegations about goings-on inside a University of Wales partner college, that all comes to an end - with the exception of overseas courses that they have total control over.

The question is: why didn't they have total control over the courses in the past?

"Let's be clear that there will be thousands of students who will want to know what this means to them and their degrees," said Luke Young, president of the National Union of Students in Wales.

"We urge clarity for University of Wales graduates, students and future applicants to Glyndwr, Uwic and Newport, who will be surprised by this announcement."

The two remaining affiliated Welsh universities - Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan - already had plans to merge with the University of Wales.

But the NUS said the "impact on students" should be assessed.

BBC Wales had previously uncovered concerns over several centres overseas which ran courses leading to University of Wales' degrees.

An investigation had found its overseas links included one run by a Malaysian pop star with bogus degrees and a college in Bangkok said to be operating illegally.

Prof Hughes said the University of Wales would now award degrees only for courses it designs and fully controls.

But he added: "We remain committed to a global role and believe it can serve Wales well."

University of Wales, Newport vice-chancellor Dr Peter Noyes, who only learned of the news on Monday afternoon, said he was astonished by the news and its timing He said it was a poor example of governance in Wales, and "no way to run a higher education system".

Prof Medwin Hughes, newly-appointed vice-chancellor of the university, explains the decision to BBC Wales education correspondent Ciaran Jenkins.

"Clearly the students who are affected by this have not been consulted and neither have the institutions concerned," he said.

He added that Newport would consider awarding its own degrees as a way to "reassure our students that this announcement will not affect their studies in any way".

Colleges affected by the University of Wales strategy will be given a notice period of one year before the changes come into effect at the start of the 2012 academic year.

Fresh revelations concerning University of Wales partner colleges will be broadcast in a special BBC Wales investigation on Wednesday.

In June, Education Minister Leighton Andrews said the University of Wales had brought the nation "into disrepute" over its links with overseas institutions.

Changing universities

  • The University of Wales has five affiliated members in Wales: Uwic, Glyndwr, Swansea Metropolitan, Newport and Trinity Saint David
  • Glyndwr had recently announced that it planned to award its own degrees
  • The University of Wales had existing plans to merge with Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan

A review by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) said it had "confidence" in the university but identified weaknesses in its external validation processes.

The QAA's report found the university had not run proper checks while setting up partnerships with the colleges in question - a process known as validation.

It said the university "missed the opportunity to be circumspect" about Fazley Yaakob, a Malaysian pop star who claimed to have a doctorate in business administration.

Its approval of a fashion college in Thailand was judged "inadequate" and "flawed".

  • The latest on the University of Wales' degrees will be broadcast on BBC Wales' Week In Week Out on Wednesday at 2030 BST on BBC1 Wales.

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