Saturday, June 30, 2018


The sad demise (perhaps wilful destruction more like) of the former University of Newport, absorbed and asset stripped by the former University of Glamorgan, as a result of a combination of greed, stupidity, bad decisions and perhaps a failure on the part of the former management to really understand how politics in Wales works. The loss of the cities University has done many of the former (ex) employees and the City of Newport few favours. 

Newport's riverside City Campus
As noted elsewhere 10 years ago Newport was the home of a long-established student community which brought life, vibrancy and additional economic activity to Wales' third largest city. The controversial merger of the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales in 2013, has prompted some concern about the dwindling number of students undertaking degree courses in Newport. As noted by the Western Mail, once upon a time the University of South Wales published figures for the number of students in Newport but has now stopped and is currently rejecting Freedom of Information requests to release them. 

Despite the spin this was no merger, it was simply the removal of a smaller educational rival and a blatant barely concealed asset stripping exercise, driven admittedly by a desperately ambitious Vice Chancellor (although sitting in the House of Lords would admittedly not necessarily be the height of most people's ambitions). And what has happened since the merger has been a fairly consistent rundown of the provision of academic courses for students in Newport. Following the merger and rebrand, the creative industries courses once housed in the City Centre campus have been moved to the University of South Wales' Atrium campus in Cardiff.

In fairness to the former Management of the former University of Glamorgan, it can be said that they played a blinder, maximising the benefits of a close relationship with Leighton Andrews and Labour in Wales. Clearly all of those photo opportunities, the flattery, the dinners, the freebies, the lecturing gigs, the baubles and the trinkets, etc clearly paid off in the end. 

No wonder that heeded to use the government limousine so much, prior to his eventual and much deserved electoral demise. The same cannot be said for the former University of Newport which regularly expended significant sums feeding a rag tag bunch of Labour cronies (from various levels within the Labour machine) to little avail. 

Each year the catering departments financial surplus was pretty much eliminated ensuring that the troughs were full to feed the herd of Labourite’s who flocked into the University looking for free nosh. Sadly when in deep trouble and seeking help the best the University of Newport's leadership got was the sound of silence from a wide range of local Labour members at various levels from Newport City Council, the National Assembly and Westminster. 
Protests about the closure of Caerleon Campus
So much for cultivating 'political influence' of the local good and the great - when it came to the crunch loyalty to the Labour machine counted more than any desire the save a significant local employer (600+ jobs) in Newport (and across the former county if Gwent) and a financial contributor to the local / regional economy (to the tune of £120 million a year). The failure of the South Wales Argus to stand behind Newport University was understandable, especially in light of who was footed onto USW's board of governors. The newspaper did little to highlight the Universities demise and that impact on the city in general after the fact. 

To be fair there were failures on the part of the University of Newport's management as well  the failure to find collaborative partners (something) that might have kept the predatory UniGlam at bay - firstly with Colleg Gwent and then with Cardiff Metropolitan University (which has successfully  survived as an independent educational institution) in the long term probably proved decisive. A new larger institution based on a proper balanced partnership would probably have been difficult to absorb and destroy even with the support of the then Labour education minister. This failure combined with a failure to gain and make good of a basic understanding of the local political setup and how it worked also turned out to be if some importance.

The University like other semi public bodies locally (and nationally) the embryonic UWCN / UWN had plenty of well publicised ambitions - it ran a whole series of excellent courses ranging from archaeology to photography and teacher education (which along with photography and design the institution excelled at). Certainly the deliberate destruction of the Ancient History and Archaeology section of the Humanities Department which was a particularly dull ill thought out decision (especially considering the archaeological and historical significance the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon) along with the deliberate rundown of electronic and electrical engineering courses and the failure to develop a comprehensive self sustaining portfolio of part-time business focused courses  - like Cardiff Metropolitan University successfully did -  but help matters. 

Like many other semi public bodies (including housing associations) the hierarchies salaries grew - former managers now became directors and then employed managers to do the jobs that they had done previously. At Newport student numbers never grew enough to match the increasingly top heavy well salaried (at least at the top) management slanted bureaucracy. The periodic restructuring and reordering of the institutions internal and public facing departmental structures was to regular an occurrence to stabilise the institution in an increasingly competitive educational market within and without Wales. It also not do much for staff morale or help with the institutions profile in the University sector league tables. 

Prior to the end, so my sources told me the good  ship UWN was not actually in particularly good shape - by the time the merger happened the institution may have come within two or three months of actually being unable to pay the staff. Additionally the poor if not frosty and bad tempered relationship between the UWN hierarchy and Leighton Andrews, the then Labour in Wales Education minister, was deteriorating. Opportunities to take reasonable and modest steps towards survival were missed. 

In the end absorption into a greater UniGlam - rebadged for PR purposes as USW, despite warnings handed out to the management proved to be a veritable blood bath for former UWN staff - who were quietly and systematically encouraged to leave. Caerleon campus was flogged off (for housing) for the ready cash, the portfolio of courses hosted at the riverside campus had been systematically reduced. Most students now reside in Cardiff / Pontypridd and their environs - something that wrecked the buy to key housing sector in Newport. That perhaps is a matter for the medium to longer term. 

The former county of Gwent now lacks a higher educational institution to call its own, a process aided and abetted by the National Assembly who changed the definition of Wales's spacial geography to lump Gwent into a bigger south east Wales which meant that were previously there had been one HE institution there were now 3. This introduced a significant element of vulnerability to the equation, and failures to secure balanced partnerships and strong collaborative relationships with similarly sized HE institutions - perhaps more often dashed upon the rocks of senior management ego's undermined Newport University's position. 

Nearly 100 years of hard constructive work to build educational institutions which delivered quality courses to students was destroyed by the so called merger. If USW has no real interest in running a University campus in  Newport then perhaps from a Gwent focussed Higher and Further education perspective if Colleg Gwent can acquire the riverside campus (from USW) we can start the process again and build an institution that can deliver for the former county of Gwent. 

Politically the abject failure of 'the local Labour elected' to speak out and to help our former University survive in its hour of deep need speaks volumes for the reality of the way the Party formerly know as New Labour in Wales operates - putting party interests well ahead of the interests of the community they claim the represent. This is something that should be seriously be remembered before people locally think about casting their votes for them at future polls.

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