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Massive changes and more to come.

In recent years, Welsh higher education has faced ever tougher competition across the UK and internationally, with some of the relatively small Welsh institutions at times less able to invest in the major developments needed to stay up to date in teaching and research.

When the Welsh Assembly Government published Reaching Higher, its 10-year strategy for higher education, the then Minister for Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills regarded reshaping the HE sector in Wales as a top priority.

This led to the Assembly providing HEFCW with the means to launch our Reconfiguration and Collaboration Fund in 2002.

The first major development, receiving pounds 15m from the fund, was the merger of the University of Wales College of Medicine with Cardiff University. While both institutions had strong research records, it had become clear that they would be even stronger together.

The new Cardiff University has seen substantial growth since the merger in 2004.

Research income has increased by 20% a year, with new research grant awards passing pounds 100m in 2006, and the equivalent of an additional 300 full-time jobs being created. New academic partnerships have been formed across previously separated disciplines.

And as well as benefiting the Welsh economy, the university's international recognition has shot up, becoming the first institution in Wales to be ranked in the world's top 200 universities (THES-QS World University Rankings, 2006).

Healthcare in Wales will also benefit from a second RCF initiative, the establishment of an institute that will deliver world-class research to help the treatment of head injuries and brain impairments, such as stroke, dementia and schizophrenia.

The new Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience draws together and builds on 'brain science' expertise at Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea universities.

Similarly, the development of a Wales Institute of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, involving Swansea, Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Bangor universities, brings together a powerful body of experts in a range of disciplines that have considerable application across many fields of industry and the health sector. It will also work to boost the attractiveness of mathematics in schools, so helping to address a problem that is affecting recruitment to many other disciplines.

Mid and North Wales stand to reap considerable benefits from a partnership that will integrate significant elements of the research strategies of Aberystwyth and Bangor universities.

The pounds 11m from the RCF for the Research and Enterprise Partnership will strengthen research activity in the fields of environmental sciences, materials and devices technology and medieval and early modern studies. The partners are also establishing stronger, joint arrangements for working with business, again benefiting the Welsh economy.

South West Wales will benefit from pounds 7.5m to integrate and enhance a range of services for students and staff between Swansea University, Swansea Institute of Higher Education and Trinity College, Carmarthen.

This will increase efficiency across functions at the three institutions, improve the learning experience for students and provide the wider HE sector with a model for sharing services.

This year pounds 13m from the fund has been used to boost the creative sector in Wales.

The strategic alliance between the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the University of Glamorgan will ensure that Wales has a vibrant national conservatoire that is more than able to match its UK competitors and recruit the most talented students from Wales and beyond.

The college will benefit from links with Glamorgan's new Cardiff-based School of Creative and Cultural Industries, and will be able to develop facilities beyond what would have been possible.

This includes a new 350- seat concert hall, a major asset not only for the college but also for the cultural life of Wales.

All this amounts to greater change in Wales in the last few years than, arguably, any other similar-sized UK region.

And more interesting proposals are in the pipeline, to be taken forward as funds allow.

Professor Philip Gummett is chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 28, 2007
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