History of the University of Wales

Introduction and Formation of the Federal University

Spanning three centuries, the University of Wales has been regarded as a national institution which has been at the heart of Welsh educational and cultural life. The establishment of the University in 1893 was regarded as one of the most important political and social developments in the nineteenth century. The citizens of Wales, through the generosity of ordinary men and women, campaigned for the right for University education in their own country. The granting of a Royal Charter for the establishment of a new national university signified a clear commitment to the people of Wales.

The further development of regional learning centres, through the establishment of colleges in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea was a significant development and reinforced the regional presence of the University within Wales. The formation of a Federal University allowed the constituent Colleges to develop strong regional centres of learning representing distinctive features of educational delivery and research, while benefitting from a single, strong, degree ‘brand’. The federal University of Wales became a catalyst for a distinctive educational system and was known for the quality of its international research.

The people of Wales regarded their University as a national institution which was celebrated on both a national and international stage. Through the University’s support for the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS), Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (The Welsh Dictionary), Gregynog Hall (bequeathed to the University in the 1960’s) and the University of Wales Press, it helped to promote and celebrate the language, heritage and culture of Wales.

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Review of Higher Education in Wales (2001)

Over the years, the Federal University faced a series of structural changes with some of the constituent colleges calling for more autonomy. In 2001 the then newly established Government of Wales undertook a detailed review of higher education in Wales. One of the key recommendations was that each University and higher education institution in Wales should seek its own degree awarding powers. This political decision had major implications for the University of Wales, with all the constituent colleges moving to gain their own taught and, and in many cases, research degree powers. As a result, the original federal structure, which was at the heart of the University, was no longer required, and the former constituent colleges left the University of Wales structure over a period of time.

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Defining a new role for the University of Wales (2004)

By 2004, all of the original University Colleges had broken away from the University of Wales. Under the leadership of the Pro- Chancellor, Lord Wigley of Caernarfon, the University restructured itself into an autonomous institution, and for the first time in its history it sought to define a role for itself alongside all the other academic institutions in Wales.

The University appointed a Vice-Chancellor to lead the strategic development of the institution, and put in place a team of academic staff and senior officers to contribute to new activities in support of the University’s mission. While the University continued not to register students in its own right, it continued to accredit degrees and awards for several academic institutions in Wales, to validate programmes of study delivered by partner centres at home and overseas, and continued the University’s record in supporting a range of important  cultural and heritage services.

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Strategic review and the decision to merge (2010/11)

By 2010, in addition to students following studies in Wales, the University had over 22,000 students registered on validated programmes by the University of Wales at over 130 centres in the UK and overseas, and this was the University’s main source of income.

A number of events occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011, which caused the University’s governing body (Council) to strategically review the business and core activity of the University of Wales, which culminated, in October 2011, in the announcement that the University would merge with UWTSD and SMU.

• In November 2009, the Welsh Government published for consultation: ‘For Our Future - The 21st Century Higher Education Strategy and Plan for Wales’.

• In March 2010, in its remit letter to the Higher Education Funding Council Wales (HEFCW), the Welsh Government:

        - Charged HEFCW to review the configuration and funding of higher education
          sector in Wales ‘to ensure sustainable delivery of the priorities for higher
          education in Wales set out For Our Future.’

        - Confirmed to HEFCW its plan to initiate a review of higher education
           governance in Wales, integral to which would be ‘consideration of the
           University of Wales and its current and future contribution to the
           implementation of For Our Future …’.

        - Stated that ‘it is essential that the quality of the University of Wales brand is
           maintained’ and invited HEFCW to evaluate the conclusions of the most
           recent Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) review of the University of Wales.

• In May 2010, the Welsh Government announced the terms of a review of the governance of higher education in Wales (the McCormick Review). As part of the review, McCormick was tasked to consider in detail the current and future role of the University of Wales.

• In December 2010, HEFCW recommended a reconfiguration of the higher education sector in which there would be fewer institutions that reflect regional needs, which would necessitate a number of strategic relationships and mergers among the universities in Wales.

• In March and June 2011, following public and media scrutiny of the University of Wales, the Minister for Education and Skills made a statement about the external validation and collaboration arrangements of the University.

• In October 2011, a statement by the Welsh Government confirmed that McCormick had concluded that the University of Wales could not continue in its present form. McCormick highlighted a number of policy issues and options, and a key conclusion of the review was that if the University of Wales was to have a meaningful role in the future it would need to merge with another University.

The University Council considered a broad range of options before deciding to accept the conclusions of the McCormick Review and to announce a merger with UWTSD and SMU. The process of merger has started (and the first stage in this, the merger between SMU and UWTSD, was completed in October 2012), however the full constitutional merger can only be finalised when the University of Wales has met its legal obligations to students who have commenced study for an award of the University, and to the collaboration centres at which they are studying.

The decision to merge under the 1828 Royal Charter of UW:TSD, which is the oldest University Royal Charter in England Wales after those representing the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, was a significant and historic decision. Through this merger, the transformed university will take the contribution made by the University of Wales as a Federal University over two centuries and continue to serve the people of Wales.

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Adduned Cymru – The Wales Pledge

In 2012, the University announced the creation of Adduned Cymru – The Wales Pledge to ensure that the assets it holds will continue to benefit the whole of Wales. With a fund value of £6.8m, it will entail a series of strategic arrangements including the establishment of a number of charitable bodies to safeguard the traditional services associated with the University. Within a period of transformational change for higher education in Wales, in creating Adduned Cymru – The Wales Pledge, the University will safeguard its legacy for future generations and Wales as a whole, and remain faithful to its core values, ensuring the assets serve the purpose for which they were intended.

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2017/18 - The Transformed University

In August 2017, both the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David approved a deed of union which delivered on the original policy objective of integrating two historic Universities, thus creating a new University for Wales. The University of Wales will cease to be an accrediting body for other Universities in Wales and will bring to a close validated programmes offered at centres in the UK and overseas.

The transformed University will respect and uphold the historic cultural legacy and the mission given to the University of Wales by our predecessors, whilst also adapting in order to respond to the needs of students and employers, both in Wales and further afield. 

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