Shall we dance? Collaborations, Alliances, Mergers

Or Snog, marry, avoid? More universities are working more closely together

In one of its latest circulars (2012-21) HEFCE has published some new guidance on collaborations, alliances and mergers. It’s interesting stuff and timely given the context:

The pace of change in the HE sector is probably accelerating in many countries due to a number of complex and interacting factors, such as globalisation, internationalisation, the growing role of the private sector, increasing use of international rankings of institutions, and changing student needs and expectations. In England the new approach to the funding of teaching, and changes taking place to other major sources of funding, will also have a big impact on institutional behaviour, as will the renewed emphasis on placing students at the centre of the system. In various European countries and in Wales there have been major CAM developments, often actively promoted by governments to strengthen institutions and improve performance.

A clear, if rather simplistic, spectrum shows a range of possible partnerships from soft through to harder collaborations although there is plenty of scope for overlap here:

Continuing the rationale for this kind of activity, the paper also notes:

Institutions are being challenged as never before to reconsider their fundamental role, market position, structures, relationships, partnerships, policies and processes. They will need to continue questioning how they operate internally, engage externally with other institutions and organisations, and interact with the wider society. This raises the profile and potential relevance of collaborations, alliances and mergers as part of institutions’ response to the drivers for change. Nonetheless, institutions are autonomous and there is no question of a top-down approach in England.

There are some interesting case studies in here, ranging from the UMIST/Manchester merger, the development of what was Thames Valley University and the establishment of University Campus Suffolk. Although the emphasis is more on mergers than collaborations and alliances it is nevertheless a helpful guide and certainly reflects some dimensions of the Nottingham/Birmingham partnership.

A little more information can be found in this Prezi on the collaboration between the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham as delivered to colleagues at the recent AHUA conference.

Undoubtedly we will be seeing more collaborations, alliances and even mergers in future.

Universities forging ‘strategic alliance’

More significant university collaborations

Following the recent announcement about the collaboration between the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham there have been some interesting developments in Wales. WalesOnline carries a piece about a new ‘strategic alliance’ between Bangor and Aberystwyth:

Bangor vice-chancellor Professor John Hughes said the university would continue to develop its “trusting relationship” with Aberystwyth, but there were no plans to merge.

“The geographical implications of merging two institutions 2½ hours apart are just not sensible,” he said.

The development follows recent news that three higher education institutions in South Wales are to merge, forming a new “super university”.

Perhaps not that exciting and interesting to note that the first question which is always asked is about whether this is the first step to merger.

The so called super university mentioned here is described, according to the BBC,  as a “radical” move which “bridges educational boundaries”. It will comprise the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (Uwic), Swansea Metropolitan University and Trinity Saint David in Carmarthen which will merge as The University of Wales. Others may be encouraged to join in the fun later.

Meanwhile Newport University is reported to be looking to merge with an English institution. It’s all kicking off in Wales where HEFCW has certainly taken on a much more directive role than its English or Scottish counterparts in relation to university mergers.