No 9: Mad Hatter in Wales

Mad Hatter in Wales

By Dafydd Glyn Jones 

My friend Dafydd Glyn Jones, whom I mentioned in Blog 7, is a person who has been actively raising issues about the future of the University of Wales even before the incredible and invalid decision taken by the University Council on 21 October 2011.   

In December he was invited by the editor, Dr. Tim Horder, to write an article for The Oxford Magazine which is an independent magazine edited by members of the University and published by the Delegates of Oxford University Press.   It is published 12 times per year during the University terms and is distributed with the Gazette.    Dafydd’s article has now been published and I’m delighted that he’s given permission for it to be available on this Blog.    It can be seen by clicking on the link “About” above and then on “Mad Hatter in Wales”.    It’s well worth reading, it will amuse you and also make you think.

Dafydd has a blog, “Blog Gyn Adda”.   This is a Welsh language blog and is well worth following.   He has prepared numerous articles on the University of Wales but he also writes on a wide variety of subjects and with a wonderful sense of humour.    For those of you who can read Welsh the following site is well worth a visit: 

http://glynadda.wordpress.com

Dafydd has published a Welsh language booklet on the problems of the University of Wales, Trwy Ofer Esgelustod: Brad a Dinistr Prifysgol Cymru”.    This  booklet has sold out but an updated version can be found on the above website.    This is well worth reading.

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No. 8: University of Wales – reply from Welsh Government

Reply from the Welsh Government 

I sent my correspondence with the Privy Council, together with the evidence which proved that the University of Wales had totally ignored the requirements of its Statues, to Mr Leighton Andrews, the Education Minister in the Welsh Government.   In the covering letter I included a question on what was the purpose of the union between the University of Wales and the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David.   I said that I could see the arguments for universities with students to come together in order to create a more sustainable number of students.   However, as the University of Wales has no students I asked what the purpose of the proposed union was.    

Merger: “potentially but not necessarily also with the University of Wales” 

I received a reply from a civil servant on behalf of Mr Andrews.  In answer to the question on the purpose of the proposed union reference was made to the HEFCW’s report, Future Structure of Universities in Wales (2011), which recommended “a merger between the University of Wales: Trinity St David and Swansea Metropolitan University, potentially but not necessarily also with the University of Wales”.  A statement made by the Minister on 5 December 2012 (sent to me with the FOI request reply) used exactly the same phrase.

I was delighted to learn that the Minister is not, as yet, accepting the merger as inevitable.

The section of the reply dealing with the evidence that the University had not acted according to its Statutes was surprising and worrying.   If I’ve translated correctly the answer is as follows:

Higher Educational establishments are self-governing bodies.  The arrangements for how it consults with its graduates are a matter for the University of Wales to decide.  This matter does not come under the authority of Welsh Ministers

I found this reply baffling as I hadn’t complained about the arrangements for consultation.  It was not possible to do this as there had been no consultation and therefore there were no arrangements in existence.  My argument was very simple:

            1. The Statutes state that the University shall regularly consult with its   graduates.

            2. The evidence shows that the University has not consulted in any way with its graduates

            3. Therefore the University has failed to follow the requirements of its Statues.

            4. Therefore the decision taken on 21 October 2011 was invalid as are all actions resulting from this invalid decision.

QED

Questions to Mr Leighton Andrews

I’ve sent a reply seeking clarification of this reply.    Does the reply imply: 

1. That it doesn’t worry Mr Andrews when a University completely ignores the requirements of its Statutes?

2. That Higher Education institutions in Wales can completely ignore the requirements of their constitution and do whatever they like without any intervention by the Minister?

3. That Mr Andrews fundamentally disagrees with the view of the Privy Council which has declared that the Privy Council would expect any normally functioning Chartered institution to act in accordance with the provisions of its Charter and Statutes”?  (see Blog No.3) 

I also drew attention to the fact that the University had sent the changes to the Charter and Statutes to the Privy Council last June and that in July the Council had sent these to “the Privy Council’s advisors on HE policy in Wales.”   The reply that I’d received gave the impression that whether or not the University acted in accordance with the requirements of the existing Statutes was not important.   I therefore asked whether or not there was any purpose in the Advisors providing any comments to the Privy Council on the proposed changes.

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No.7: University of Wales: Why I started investigating

Why I started investigating the University of Wales

Like many other University of Wales graduates I’d been shocked by the revelations in the BBC Wales programme “Week In Week Out” about the failure of management at the University.   I was even more shocked to hear of the decision of the University Council on 21 October 2011 to dissolve the University through a merger with the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David.    I was at home recovering from a huge hernia operation and saw a letter from Dafydd Glyn Jones published in the Welsh language weekly newspaper, “Y Cymro” in October 2011.   

I wrote a letter in response commenting on the incompetence of the University Council; commenting on the lack of robust management systems at the University; calling for the assets of the University to be transferred to an independent Trust and calling on the Welsh Government to establish an independent investigation to established how this once proud university came to collaborate with and validate degrees at some very doubtful educational establishments.   Incredibly the Welsh Government still hasn’t conducted an independent enquiry into what went wrong.   How else can the Welsh Government learn lessons and take steps to ensure that such a scandal doesn’t happen again within higher education in Wales?

Unfortunately I wasn’t recovering well and the GP discovered that I had a huge infection and I had to return to hospital for another couple of weeks.   After a few days the antibiotic injections started taking effect, I was feeling better and asked my wife to bring in my laptop.  Thanks to a kind patient in the bed opposite I was able to get on the internet and I started to investigate the colleges with whom the University was collaborating and learnt about these institutions, both overseas and private colleges in the UK.  

I then decided to investigate the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David (UoW:TSD) and found that this university also had dozens of collaborations, mainly in the School of Theology and the School of Business.     Some of these collaborative colleges looked very doubtful and it occurred to me that moving from the University of Wales to UoW:TSD would be jumping from the frying pan into the fire!

From my hospital bed I wrote an open letter to Prof Medwin Hughes, Vice-chancellor of UoW: TSD, asking questions about these collaborative arrangements and about one in particular, a private college “College of Technology London”.   This was a college in London for overseas students and it was possible to compete a UoW:TSD degree in London in 2 years whereas the same degree for students studying at Lampeter would take 3 years.    The letter was published in “Y Cymro” and in due course I received a reply from Prof Hughes stating that one of his first acts on becoming Vice-Chancellor of the university in 2010 was to bring these collaborative arrangements to an end but that some would continue until current students had completed their courses.   I was pleased to learn this. 

I often wonder whether I would have done all this internet research if I not been in hospital.   If I’d been at home, probably not as I would have spent my time on other things.   As it was, this gave me something interesting to do with my time in hospital and it probably aided my recovery!   I learnt enormously through the research I did during this period and it has been the foundation for understanding what was going on and has enabled to know where to look in undertaking further research. 

I’ve learnt so much during the past 15 months and I’m still making discoveries.   I want people to know the truth about what is going on at the University of Wales and I’ll be bringing out many interesting facts in these Blogs over the next few weeks.   I’ve started with the correspondence with the Privy Council and the case put to the Privy Council that the decision taken at the University Council on 21 October 2011 was not valid. 

These issues are critical as it will be the decisions taken by the Privy Council that will decide the fate of the University of Wales.

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No. 6: University of Wales Guild of Graduates

The Guild of Graduates 

When I graduated back in 1959 I automatically became a member of the University of Wales Guild of Graduates.   It was an active body.   We received regular communication from the Warden and Clerk and there were regular meetings for specialist sections and I seem to remember regular meetings at the National Eisteddfod.  There was also an AGM.    

At that time the Guild held annual elections to elect representatives to become members of the University Court, which no longer exists.  In 1970 my name was put forward for these elections but I was well beaten by far more prominent candidates.    The last communication from the Guild that I have is an invitation to attend the 2006 AGM on 2 September 2006 but unfortunately I didn’t attend.   I understand that the Guild was abolished in 2007 but I have no correspondence on this.   Perhaps I’ve lost this correspondence, but there was certainly nothing on the 2006 AGM Agenda to suggest that the Guild was about to be abolished during 2007.   

As the Guild was a separate entity, I asked what the value of the Guild’s assets was when it was decided to bring the Guild to an end.   I also asked what had happened to these assets.

I was told that the balance at 31 July 2007 was £74,643.07 which included investments, short-term loans and ready cash.   None of the assets have been transferred to any other fund and, over the past 5 years, have been used to support the activities of the Guild/Former Students.  The balance at 31 July 2012 was £77,951.44.  

I was delighted to learn that the fund was still in existence and that its value had increased.   Clearly there must have been some sensible investments made.   However, there are a number of questions. 

The questions that arise

1.         Activities of the Guild since 2007

If the Guild had been brought to an end in 2007, how was it possible for activities to continue under the name of the Guild?  How is it possible to carry out activities under the name of an organisation that no longer exists?   I would like to hear of a logical explanation. 

2.         Cymdeithas Cyn-fyfyrwyr Prifysgol Cymru / Association of former students of the University of Wales now called in English the “University of Wales Alumni Association”

In recent years I’ve seen reference, in Welsh, to an Association of Former Students of the University of Wales.   I was a student at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and I’m a life member of the “Old Students Association” of the College and by now I certainly qualify for the description “old”!   I enjoy attending the annual reunions at the National Eisteddfod which I attend most years. 

I’m a graduate of the University of Wales but I’ve never been a student at the University of Wales.  Therefore, logically, I cannot join an Association of former students of the University of Wales.   I’m not qualified to join but neither is anyone else.  There is no such person in the world as a former student of the University of Wales! 

3.         Why dissolve the Guild if it was still considered desirable to have an association of “former students”?

If it was considered desirable to bring the Guild to an end, why was it decided to continue an association with similar objectives but under a new misleading name?  If they didn’t like the name Guild, why not use the name “Association of UoW Graduates” or “UoW Graduates Association” or similar? 

When the University decided to establish the Association of Former Students, why didn’t the University contact all the members of the Guild of Graduates, inform them of the change and ask if they wished to join the new Association?    They had all our addresses.    I agree that these days one would want to obtain email details in order to establish electronic contact.   Had they asked we could all have supplied the information, if one had wished to continue the association.  

4.         Who are the officers of this Association of “Former Students” and who controls the funds of our former Guild?

The Guild of Graduates used to have annual elections to elect officers and committee.   Does anyone know who the officers of this new Association are?     Does anyone remember any elections?   Who now controls the funds of our former Guild?

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No.5: University of Wales’ Collaborative Centres

The Collaborative Centres

On 6 December 2012 I received a reply to another of my Freedom of Information requests concerning the number of Collaborative Centre which were still operational.   These are the external centres where the University has been validating courses leading to students being awarded University of Wales degrees.  I asked: 

1. How many centres have received notification that their agreement is been terminated but they are able to continue teaching current students until the courses have been completed?

Answer:          Overseas:        74

                         In UK:               38

2. How many centres continue to have an agreement which currently allows them to continue to recruit new students?

Answer:          Overseas:        45

                         In UK:               29

These answers amazed me and I’m not surprised that the University ran into difficulties trying to manage all these external centres, many in numerous foreign countries.  A couple of years ago there were probably even more centres! You must have a well-managed management system with clearly documented processes and procedures together with rigorous regular internal systems auditing with reports sent to top management and the University Council in order to control such an operation effectively.  The UK centres are mainly private collages with the majority being in London and many of their students are foreign students.

Ending the agreements

I had asked the date by which all the agreements would come to an end.   It was explained that there had to be individual negotiations with each individual centre and that most of the courses leading to validated UoW degrees would come to an end before the end of 2016 but that some would not be completed until 2017/18.   The letter dated 5 Sept. 2012 sent by Prof Medwin Hughes to Mr Leighton Andrews expands on this and explains that “one of the key risks identified in this process was the fact that the University of Wales had not secured any form of consistency in the initial legal contracts regarding exit dates or arrangements with validated centres. The University has had to agree individual exit agreements with every centre.

I can sympathise with those trying to deal with the aftermath of the rapid, apparently uncontrolled, expansion of these Centres.   Prof Hughes explains that the current structure of the University with its power to award degrees must remain until around 2017/18.  

There must be a sound team in charge to ensure the efficient management of the phasing out of these Centres over the period.   This reminds me of a similar process I examined a few years ago.   Family documents showed that one of my great, great grandfathers, a quarryman, had purchased a terraced house in the village of Penmachno in 1867 with the aid of a mortgage from the North Denbighshire Permanent Benefit Building Society.  This was a prominent Building Society in northern Wales at this time established by the famous Thomas Gee.   I went to the National Archives in Kew to examine the records and found that a decision was taken in 1910 to dissolve the Society.  Of course there were still many people at that time who had mortgages with a number of years to run.   It was 1926 by the time the last mortgage was paid off and the Society was finally dissolved on 3 February 1927.   The annual reports and accounts over the rundown period showed that it was a well-managed orderly process and the accounts balanced for each year over the period.

I very much hope that the rundown process to end these validating agreements will be equally well managed.  However, the big difference is that I don’t want to see the University of Wales dissolved at the end of this process.   I want the institution to continue to exist.   I have a University of Wales degree and I want my degree to continue to mean something.   I also believe that there is a continuing role for the University in the future.

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No. 4: University of Wales and The Privy Council again

Letter by Prof Medwin Hughes, 5 September 2012

In his letter to Leighton Andrews, the Education Minister, dated 5 September 2012, Prof. Medwin Hughes, Vice-chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Wales, stated that the University Council had reviewed the Charter and Statutes and had agreed “to substantial changes and it should be noted that most of the current statutes have been deleted.”   The letter went on:

The Charter has been presented to the Privy Council.  Initial comments from your advisors have been received and I am in the process of instructing the University lawyers to add additional clauses within the proposed Supplemental Revised Charter which will note specific dates with regard to exit/closure.  This will be then presented to the Council (the University Council) and the Privy Council for consideration with the view, hopefully, of receiving Royal Assent before the end of the year.”

The revisions of the Charter signify the start of irreversible constitutional change which will, in due course, lead to the full merger of the University of Wales into the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David.  At that particular point, the current Charter of the University of Wales will no longer be required.”  

The proposed changes to the Charter and Statutes are therefore critical and in my letter of 10 December 2012 to the Privy Council I made it clear that these proposals had been made without any consultation with the Graduates.   The action had not been taken in accordance to the requirements of the Statutes and was therefore invalid.    I declared that I was strongly opposed to the changes.

Privy Council reply, 18 December 2012

The reply contained the following:

“I am able to confirm that in June 2012 the University, through it legal agent, submitted to this office draft proposals to amend the Charter and Statutes.   In July, I referred the proposals to the Privy Council’s Advisors on HE policy in Wales for their informal comments only.   To date I have not received a response to my request, although I understand that the University has since met with policy officers to discuss the proposals further.”

It’s clear that Prof Hughes’ hope that the changes would receive Royal Assent by the end of 2012 was wildly optimistic.   It now appears that that the advice that will be given by the “Advisors on HE policy in Wales” will be critical but, at the end of the day the decision will be taken by the Privy Council.

The proposed changes to the Charter and Statues had been submitted to the Privy Council by the University’s legal advisors.    In making any changes to the Statutes, I find it very strange that any competent legal advisors did not bring to the University management’s attention the requirement in the Statutes for consultation.  Perhaps they did draw attention of the University’s management to the obligation to consult and that the University management deliberately chose to ignore this advice.    Whichever is the case, there is a serious issue of competence here.

The next step was to send my correspondence with the Privy Council together with the evidence which proved that the University of Wales had totally ignored the requirements of its Statues to Mr Leighton Andrews, the Education Minister in the Welsh Government.

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No.3: University of Wales and The Privy Council

The Privy Council

The Privy Council is the body which considers and approves the award of the Royal Charter status on an institution such as a university, a professional body etc.    Institutions wishing to achieve chartered status must make an application and provide the required evidence to support the application.   An institution like the University of Wales has an approved Charter together with Statutes which support the charter.  These then form the constitution by which the institution must be run.     If an institution wishes to make changes to the Charter and Statutes it must submit these to the Privy Council for approval.   Only the Privy Council has the authority to approve any changes to the Charter and Statutes.

Correspondence with the Privy Council

29 November 2011

I first wrote to the Privy Council in November 2011 asking a series of questions mainly regarding the authority of the University Council to take the momentous decision taken at the meeting on 21 October 2011 and also, in view of the confusing statements coming out of the University, asking whether or not the University still existed. 

I received a detailed and very helpful reply from the Senior Clerk to the Council with responsibility for higher education matters, Mr Christopher Berry.   In conclusion he wrote “I can conclude, however, that the Charter of the University of Wales is still extant – it has not been surrendered in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.”   This was a great relief!

I was also informed that the Secretary of State was the member of the Privy Council with responsibility for providing recommendations on all Privy Council business concerning Wales but, as Higher Education was a devolved matter, the recommendations would be based on policy advice given by the Welsh Government.

18 November 2012

I wrote again quoting Clause II of the Charter stating that the Graduates were Members of the University and Clause 11 of the Statutes stating the requirement for the University to regularly consult with its Graduates.    I enquired as to whether the University would have to provide evidence of consultation before the Council could approve any changes.  I received an acknowledgement with a promise of a full reply.

10 December 2012

On 6 December I received the long-awaited answer to my Freedom of Information request on consultation which is quoted in Blog No. 2.    On 10 December I sent this evidence to the Privy Council together with my interpretation and comments.   I said that the evidence showed clearly that the University had not complied with the requirements of its Statutes and therefore the decision taken by the University Council on 21 October 2011 was invalid. 

On 18 December 2012 I again received a full and helpful reply from Mr Berry which contained the following sentence:

In response to these questions I can confirm that the Privy Council would expect any normally functioning Chartered institution to act in accordance with the provisions of its Charter and Statutes.” 

He informed me that the information sent had been noted.

In view of the failure of the University to conform to the requirements of its Statutes one may ask whether the University of Wales, under its current management, can be considered to be a “normally functioning Chartered institution”. 

Mr Berry also informed me that since his last letter that “the First Minister of Wales has taken over responsibility for all Welsh Privy Council matters such as this (that said, the Secretary of State still has some residual powers in yet to be devolved areas).”

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