On 14 January 2009, the Auditor General for Wales published a report (Collaboration between higher education institutions) which claims that the full scope for collaboration in the Welsh higher education sector – potentially yielding cost savings, widening teaching provision and increasing research capacity - has not yet been realised.
The report notes that universities in Wales are working together successfully on a number of projects. However, close cooperation has been lacking in certain areas and the report highlights barriers to further progress – particularly the evident 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 attempted 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. The fund is administered through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW).
The report concludes that the HEFCW is generally managing the fund effectively and uses transparent criteria to assess applications. However, there is evidence in certain areas of a lack of understanding as to how the fund operates and what characteristics determine successful applications. Universities may be deterred from pursuing collaborative ventures as a result.
The report makes three recommendations to help stimulate greater collaboration. HEFCW should: