Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Earlier this year, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) put forward the suggestion that Glyndwr University should work under an umbrella of higher education institutions led by Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities.

Recently, a group of MPs, led by the local Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, had objected to this proposal, suggesting that HEFCW had “displayed a woeful ignorance of the needs of north-east Wales and the importance of a university led from within our region”. 

They were supported last week by Flintshire County Council, which noted that the move could be potentially damaging for the region as the university has built strong links with the business community.

I am not surprised that there is growing sympathy for Glyndwr University’s current dilemma.

With Wrexham and Flintshire being very much one of powerhouse regions of the Welsh economy, one would have thought that the Welsh Government would have seen the development of Glyndwr University as a key part of the strategy for turning Wales into a “small clever country”.

Yet, some within higher education are finally realising that Glyndwr has actually had very little visible support from policymakers, especially compared to other universities. For example, whilst there are now an additional 1800 full time undergraduates at Bangor University as compared to a decade ago. Glyndwr has only been given an additional 690 in a market that is strongly controlled by the funding council.

Whilst money was recently granted for £5m centre for the creative industries at Glynd┼Ár University, questions are still being asked why HEFCW would then give Bangor £15 million for what seems to be an identical, and competitive, project?

And despite this alleged favouritism over the last decade, Glyndwr has, to its credit, simply got on with the business of developing its potential as a very different type of academic institution that the region’s economy needs.

Given recent evidence from one of the great management thinkers, its current approach could well turn out to be the one that the rest of academia may well follow in the future.

In his latest book, the Harvard guru Clayton Christensen (along with Henry Eyring) suggests that traditional universities are facing a major crisis. In the race to constantly make themselves bigger and better, they have steadily driven up costs and, as a result, are now overstretched, overcommitted and no longer responsive to the needs of learners.

In contrast, the innovative university that will form the new model for higher education will not focus on getting bigger, but on what they do best to educate the students they wish to serve, a sentiment that is at the core of Glyndwr University’s vision for the future.

Yet the ‘big is best’ approach through consolidation and economies of scale is the only one currently under review by the Welsh Government, even though a variety of different institutional strategies may be more relevant.

For example, Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities are two traditional institutions that are almost identical in their approach to higher education and a merger between these two bodies may well make sense in the long term. However, to bring in Glyndwr, which is different in so many ways, into such a group because of geographic expediency simply defies common logic.

Certainly, the great and good of the North East of Wales need to persuade the Welsh Government to support an entrepreneurial university which is based in one of the our nation’s industrial heartlands.

Frankly, it has nothing to lose in doing so and everything to gain.

And instead of treating the institution as an afterthought as compared to Bangor and Aberystwyth, those in charge of education policy should consider how this innovative university can make a real impact on its local economy and provide the resources necessary for it to grow and prosper.