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Merge or dissolve - Andrews plays his cards in Cardiff Met row

Wales’ education minister is to consult on the dissolution of Cardiff Metropolitan University despite the institution’s governing body's rejection of his plans to merge it with two other universities.

In a statement released today, Leighton Andrews says that the longstanding case for merger was a “sound one” and that he expected to proceed to a statutory consultation on winding up the institution’s legal vehicle with a view to it merging in the near future.

“I would hope to see progress in terms of Cardiff Metropolitan’s involvement in the new merged institution in 2014,” he added.

He said that the case for merger with the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport, has “enjoyed all-party support in the Assembly” and the blessing of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

Yesterday the Welsh government released a report by Sir Steve Smith, former head of Universities UK, which argued that both Cardiff Metropolitan and Newport could not “survive in the medium term without merger”.

He said that Cardiff Metropolitan was “well led, and financially sound” but had seen a “sizeable drop in applications overall this year” which meant its “sustainability is seriously in doubt”.

Higher Education Wales, the part of Universities UK that represents institutions in the country, said that while Sir Steve’s report presented “serious challenges”, universities “are legally autonomous and mergers are a matter for university governing bodies to decide”.

Mr Andrews has previously said he would use his powers to dissolve institutions in order to drive through mergers.

Glamorgan and Newport have already agreed to merge. But at a meeting on 9 July, Cardiff Metropolitan’s governors voted 13-1 in favour of remaining independent.

However, the University and College Union in Wales supports a merger and urged Cardiff Metropolitan to “engage positively in discussions”.

Bethan Thomas, a UCU Wales support official, said: “If the board of governors at CMU continue with their intransigence in relation to the Welsh government’s policy for HE in SE Wales, then UCU Wales welcomes the commitment that the minister will consider the use of his power of dissolution to put an end to 10 years of uncertainty.”

A spokesman for Cardiff Met said the university was “disappointed” with the announcement by Mr Andrews given the “recognition by Professor Sir Steve Smith of Cardiff Metropolitan University’s strengths and achievements”.

“The university will now consider its next steps, especially in light of the continued failure to provide a single piece of evidence to support such a merger,” he added.

“The board of governors will need time to review the substance of the statement before commenting further.”

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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