Barriers to collaboration need removing for Assembly Government objectives to be achieved, says Auditor General
Universities in Wales are working successfully together on a number of collaboration projects. But there is scope to do more and, in some areas, only limited progress has been made. A report, published today by the Auditor General for Wales, concludes that the full potential for collaboration in higher education - which can yield cost savings, widen teaching provision and increase research capacity - has not yet been achieved.
Although many projects are in their early stages, initial indications are that many are likely to be successful. But collaboration has been lacking in some areas and there are barriers to further progress - particularly the inevitable tensions between the Assembly Government's policy of supporting collaboration and the operation of market forces in an increasingly competitive field.
The Assembly Government has sought to increase the competitiveness of the HE sector through a policy of supporting greater collaboration between institutions, up to and including merger. By March 2008, the Assembly Government had provided over £38 million from its Reconfiguration and Collaboration Fund to support 25 higher education projects - 12 involving mergers and 13 involving other collaborations. Three substantial mergers have taken place - for example between Cardiff University and the University of Wales College of Medicine in 2004. These have made the institutions stronger.
The Fund has also led to other benefits which were not originally expected. For example, the South West Wales Higher Education Partnership was set up by Swansea University, Swansea Metropolitan University and Trinity College Carmarthen to bring together 25 administrative functions. Close relationships have been established and the Partnership is considering further projects, such as an Academy of Skills and Lifelong Learning. However, it is still too early to judge the success, or otherwise, of some other collaborative projects supported by the Reconfiguration and Collaboration Fund.
The Fund is administered through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). The report concludes that HEFCW is generally managing the Fund effectively and operates transparent criteria. However, in some areas there appears to be a lack of understanding of how the Fund operates and the characteristics of successful applications. Universities may be deterred from pursuing collaborative ventures as a result.
Today's report makes three recommendations to help stimulate greater collaboration:
The Auditor General for Wales, Jeremy Colman, said today:
"There is strength in effective collaboration and the Welsh higher education sector needs to do more of it to achieve the Assembly Government's aims. While some universities are working together well, the sector as a whole is still off the mark in terms of realising all the potential benefits. The current economic climate is likely to strengthen the case for effective collaboration, and the Assembly Government and HEFCW need to explore all avenues of encouragement and support and to overcome the barriers to collaboration that still exist."
Notes to Editors: