Aiming higher

The Commentator
Latest posts by The Commentator (see all)
The Learned Society of Wales elite?

Our correspondent The Commentator looks at how only executives representing certain universities appear in publicity for a ‘top’ club.


If you want to know who are those with the power in Welsh higher education (the academic elite) and those who don’t have any, there’s a ready-made list, provided by the Learned Society of Wales (LSW). 

Fellows are only from certain universities

The society was founded in 2010 and is financed by membership income and university funds.

Its central mission is to: “celebrate and recognise excellence in all scholarly disciplines and more widely” and it has a series of laudable aims on its website.

Old polytechnics don’t have much representation

What it doesn’t say, however, is that the membership, benefits and privileges appear to give the strong impression that it is closed to people from a Welsh post-1992 Higher Education (HE) institution.

Those missing from the society’s long, ‘fellows” lists are mostly from the old Welsh polytechnics and colleges of higher education, that were allowed to become universities almost thirty years.

Before that Wales only had a series of ‘elite’ colleges within the University of Wales. 

The LSW boasts that it has nearly 540 ‘fellows,’ “from all branches of learning”.

How many of these have been written for people from former polys?

But of course, ‘all’ doesn’t include Welsh HE colleges.

The only concession to ‘non-elitism’ is that it does include Vice Chancellors from Welsh universities, such as Cardiff Metropolitan University (CMU), University of South Wales (USW) and the University of Wales Trinity St Davids (UoWTSD).

This is despite the fact that between them post-1992 universities provide more than half of the higher education students in Wales.

It may surprise readers to know that whereas many academics from Welsh universities are missing from the fellows’ list they will find this ‘Welsh’ society packed with dozens of non-Welsh university professors and other notables.

Even the dreaming spires of Oxford are represented!

These include people from universities such as Lancester, Keele, Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge and even Dublin.

The England and Ireland-based professors then proudly display the title of Fellow of the Learned Society Wales (FLSW) after their names.

A list of fellows displayed on the society’s website even includes university professors who left their institutions under a cloud, such as Swansea’s Marc Clement and Richard Davies who were both sacked for ‘gross misconduct’ during an unprecedented police inquiry into alleged corruption in a mammoth land deal, when their organisation was beset by an astonishing scandal.

‘Let’s talk about how many from our university are represented’

From the President, Council Members and many of its fellows downwards, the LSW is dominated by Cardiff University (CU).

In fact, it swamps other universities in a number of categories.

In the ‘business’ category for instance, six of the seven fellows come from CU, the other from CMU.

They don’t run it

There are no ‘Learned Fellows’ outside Cardiff. 

Other categories are also 100 per cent from the city, such as ‘Comparative International Education’. 

In its operations, too, the society gives the appearance not only of being based in Cardiff but also run by CU.

Certainly NOT, though, by CMU despite the fact that their Vice and Deputy Vice-Chancellors have been graciously admitted. 

Welsh taxpayers fund it

Should details of support by Welsh tax payers (through their universities) of a ‘representative’ higher education body that appears to exclude HE staff, beyond a token handful, concern The Eye readers?

Maybe in this period of lockdown because of the Covid-19 crisis there are bigger fish to fry, but it may leave people thinking that there are a few questions to be asked.

Is the Learned Society a former poly-free zone?

These might include – has the LSW developed into a virtual post-1992 Welsh university exclusion zone by design or coincidence?

If by coincidence, then why in its decade of existence, hasn’t it sought to reach out and involve all of Welsh higher education institutions including post-16 and the country’s colleges?

There are so many questions to ask about this academic society

If by design, then shouldn’t it make it clearer that it does NOT represent ‘all’ of Welsh Higher Education (HE)? 

Does the fact that its membership procedures are designed to act like an old Victorian club, in which members of the club, only nominate the other ‘good fellows’ within their own academic circle, help perpetuate this elitism?

Is the society just advancing the century-old academic snobbery that post-1992 institutions and colleges aren’t proper places of higher education and learning?

Book posterAre only certain people at a number of universities worthy of the important initials FLSW after their names?

If post-1992 institutions are paying towards the running of the LSW, is it just to enable their Vice-Chancellors and a few at the very top to have those initials?

Whatever the answers may be, the public is unlikely ever to hear them, if people come from a ‘new’ Welsh university!


The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s extraordinary 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! 

You know you want it…

If you need something to keep the kids entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet.