File M/13. - University of Wales, education, and Welsh publishing,

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University of Wales, education, and Welsh publishing,


  • 1926 and undated. (Creation)

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The foundation of the University of Wales by Royal Charter on 30 November 1893 was the culmination of what might be described, with justification, as a Welsh university 'movement'. The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a renaissance in all aspects of Welsh life: economic, social, political, cultural and educational. John Viriamu Jones, the first Principal of the University College in Cardiff, declared in 1896 that 'the history of Wales during the last twenty-five years has been little less than the history of its educational progress' and no aspect of Welsh public life during this period commanded greater attention than the creation of the federal, national University. The University that was the product of the vastly increased need for educational opportunity, strong local aspirations and a profoundly-felt national inspiration brought together three existing Colleges: the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (opened in 1872 and incorporated by Charter, 1889); the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (opened in 1883 and incorporated by Charter, 1884); and the University College of North Wales, in Bangor (opened in 1884 and incorporated by Charter, 1885).

Prior to 1893, the University's founding Colleges had prepared their students for external degrees of the University of London and the University was primarily constituted as an examining and degree-awarding body. The appointment of academic staff and responsibility for teaching were matters for the Colleges themselves, whilst the federal machinery of University Court and University Senate was designed to ensure that schemes of study provided by the Colleges were adequate for the award of the University's degrees, and to safeguard the standard of examinations. This broad distinction between respective federal and constituent responsibilities survives to this day.

Throughout its history the University of Wales has sought to be effective by bringing benefits to its constituent parts. Recognizing that certain tensions, stresses and strains are intrinsic to any federal arrangement, the University's story has often been characterized by internal debate between tendencies favouring greater coherence and control on the one hand, and more freedom for individual units on the other. At times this debate has also been influenced by developments within the higher education system generally. In this way, the dissolution of the federal Victoria University of Manchester and the creation of new 'civic' universities in the early years of this century led to a re-examination of federal university structures in Wales as did pressure from the Exchequer to secure more central control over collegiate plans and spending. A Royal Commission in 1916-1918 (the Haldane Commission) was set up to examine inter alia 'in what respects the present organization of University Education in Wales can be improved, and what changes, if any, are desirable in the constitution, functions and powers of the University and its three Colleges'. The Commission's recommendations formed the basis of the Supplemental Charter granted to the University in 1920. This Charter revised the composition of the University's Court and created two new bodies - the University Council and the Academic Board. The Council was to be an executive body with responsibility for financial matters, including the distribution among the Colleges of funding received from the Exchequer and the local authorities. Academic Board replaced the large and unwieldy Senate with the function of advising Council on academic matters. The Haldane Commission received evidence which it described as 'overwhelmingly in favour of the continuation of the University of Wales, conferring degrees and exercising a general direction and control ... in the interests of the Welsh people as a whole'. The 1920 Charter also introduced the Board of Celtic Studies and a Press Board to serve the particular interests of Welsh learning and culture.

Prior to its reconstitution the University Court identified the Haldane Commissions work as 'a landmark in the development of Higher Education in Wales'. This proved to be the case, for, aside from adjusting the University's internal systems of governance, the Report of the Royal Commissioners paved the way for two new institutions in Wales which were to become key members of the University.

The incorporation by Charter of the former Swansea Technical College as the University's fourth Constituent College followed very quickly in 1920 due to the swift actions of Swansea's promoters, the University Court and the Privy Council. Despite initial doubts as to whether the provisions at the Technical College for study and research were adequate and the possibility of a link with Cardiff for Engineering, the successful entry of Swansea into the University was secured by its own plans to satisfy the Haldane Commission's desire to see a Faculty of Arts established at the College.

The foundation of the Welsh National School of Medicine as the University's first Constituent School proved far more complex and difficult to achieve. The Haldane recommendation that the School should become a constituent member, independent of its 'parent', Cardiff, proved highly controversial, the University's Senate itself feeling that the separation of the School from the College would be detrimental to the academic integrity and general interests of both institutions. It was not until 1931 that an effective compromise was reached in order to accommodate the many concerns voiced over provision for pre-clinical studies and arrangements for the leasing of Cardiff College buildings. The Supplemental Charter of 1931 then created a new School (to reflect single Faculty provision in Medicine), headed by a Provost and with the University Court also designated as the ultimate governing authority for the new institution.

The University's total student population increased rapidly in the years after 1945. From a population of 2,309, numbers rose to 6,159 by 1960. The prospect of an even sharper rate of future expansion then gave rise to vocal representations, mainly by academic staff, that the University should defederalize. A University Commission was set up to investigate and report on this issue but submitted two conflicting reports to the Court in 1964: one stated the case for creating four unitary universities in place of the federal university; the second argued for retention of the federal university with modifications in its organisation. The University Court accepted the conclusions of the second report, reaffirming the continuation of the University of Wales as one federal, national University.

The result of the University Commission was the Supplemental Charter of 1967. This made some important changes, including increasing the sizes of the Court and the Council; it also enhanced the powers of the Academic Board. Since that time, student numbers, in keeping with those of all British universities, continued to expand, rising from just over 6,000 in 1960 to 21,000 in 1990. Two further colleges were also welcomed into the University as constituent members: the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (UWIST) in 1967 [UWIST later merged with Cardiff in 1988], and St David's College, Lampeter, in 1971. The decision to admit St David's College was of particular interest since, founded in 1826, it was the oldest degree-awarding institution in Wales, but the question of whether or not it should become part of the University of Wales had more than once been a cause of acute controversy in the past. On becoming a constituent institution of the University of Wales, the College suspended its degree awarding powers in order that its students could be granted degrees of the University of Wales.

A serious financial crisis at University College, Cardiff in the 1980s was to have major implications for the public accountability of higher education institutions in the UK and naturally impacted upon the federal University itself. Following a report of a Working Group on Powers and Functions in 1989 a University of Wales Joint Planning and Resources Committee (JPRC) was set up to prepare strategic plans for the whole University. Other changes brought about the creation of a system of inter-collegiate Subject Panels, the appointment of a Deputy Pro-Chancellor to chair the JPRC, and a University Treasurer with responsibility for reporting to the Council on the financial viability of the University and of the constituent institutions.

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Contains material in many different subjects including educational matters, the University of Wales and Welsh publishing.

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Preferred citation: M/13.

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  • Text: M/13 (65).