FEARS are mounting that a radical shake-up of university education will “damage the heart” of communities in North East Wales.
The Higher Education Funding Council of Wales (HEFCW) is proposing a major restructure of the Welsh higher education system.
The consequences in Wrexham could see the town’s university ‘merged’ with Aberystwyth and Bangor universities.
If the controversial recommendations, which are currently out for consultation, are approved by education minister Leighton Andrews, Glyndwr could lose its autonomy and be governed by education chiefs more than 70 miles away in Aberystwyth or Bangor.
Welsh Conservative AM Mark Isherwood said the proposals could deal a “severe blow” to the area.
He said: “Glyndwr University is at the heart of our community, emotionally, intellectually and socially and to remove that local ownership, expertise and knowledge by forcing them into a marriage with universities outside North East Wales would risk damaging the heart of our community.”
Campaign group Friends of North East Wales and Glyndwr University has now been set up to fight the plans.
Chairman Steve Morgan, who is also chairman of Flintshire-based housebuilder Redrow, said the proposals could have a devastating impact on the town and the wider area.
He said: “The proposals could have serious implications for North East Wales and Glyndwr University. I am particularly concerned about the implications for industry and business in the area if Glyndwr is effectively downgraded.”
The university generates in the region of £70 million a year into Wrexham’s economy, which the friends group says could further increase if the university was allowed to develop.
Under the new plans it is expected all major decisions would be taken by a governing board made up of representatives from Aberystwyth, Bangor and Glyndwr universities, but based in Mid or North West Wales.
Glyndwr’s own governing board could be scrapped all together and decisions made by people who do not know the town.
A spokesman for the friends group said: “Local leadership for North East Wales would be seriously weakened and responsiveness to the needs and demands for the area significantly reduced.
“Glyndwr could become a satellite campus of Bangor and Aberystwyth subject to threats at times of recession or cost-cutting.”
Glyndwr is one of the few universities in the country to have no outstanding debt, despite recent acquisitions and developments such as the purchase of the Racecourse stadium and the creation of the multi-million pound Centre for the Creative Industries.
But fears are growing that any debts accrued by Bangor and Aberystwyth could hamper future development projects at Glyndwr.
The friends group has now sent out a rallying cry for help to halt the proposals.
Members of the public are urged to write to education minister Leighton Andrews with their views ahead of the consultation deadline on Wednesday, October 5.
A Glyndwr University spokesman said the university would prepare an official response to the HEFCW consultation in due course.
NO university can measure its value to students and the wider community in terms of money alone.
That said, there is nothing wrong with being proud of your contribution – and Glyndwr’s is substantial.
Founded in 2008 but with roots stretching back more than a century, it generates an estimated £70million a year for the local economy.
It has about 1,500 partnerships across the UK, among them links with some of the region’s biggest employers.
It is home to the BBC and, as of last month, owner of Wrexham FC’s historic Racecourse ground.
And its graduates, according to a recent survey, have a 20 per cent better chance of landing a decent job than from any other university in the wider region.
So news that its ability to manage its own affairs is under threat was never going to be taken lightly.
An education report proposes changes to Glyndwr’s place in the North Wales pecking order, “within a group structure led by Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities”.
The language is innocuous but the implications are significant.
The transfer of leadership to a base more than 70 miles from Wrexham would undermine Glyndwr’s ability to make its own informed choices.
Instead, critics say, the university would be at the mercy of remote decision makers inevitably lacking the niche understanding of staff on the ground.
And when that happens, everything – from long-term funding to the established prospectus – is potentially at risk.
As befits an educational establishment, campaigners opposing the shake-up have done their homework.
The facts and figures of Glyndwr’s achievements, beautifully distilled, root their concerns over its future in the real world.
This decision does not rest on an obscure point of detail or form part of some fusty academic debate.
Instead it involves a fundamental change in the way higher education in North Wales is delivered and, by extension, where, by whom and to what end.
Universities should not exist in isolation and, certainly, Glyndwr suffers little from the town-and-gown divisions associated with some older institutions.
On the contrary: its links with business, its commitment to the arts, its ties to the football club next door... all put it at the heart of Wrexham and the wider region.
It is that heart campaigners fear could be torn out if decision-making powers go elsewhere.
Any perceived threat to Glyndwr’s independence at the sharp end of 21st century life should be treated with the utmost seriousness.
We simply cannot afford to lose what it has to offer.
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