Universities challenged

April McMahon - ‘Take these tables with a pinch of salt’
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April McMahon points to her controversial time

A Welsh higher education institution which dramatically dropped down the tables before a contentious head left amid a storm of controversy, as well as the biggest university in Wales which broke the law over not releasing information and honoured a celebrity, did not take part in a teaching excellence ranking which included almost every other similar organisation in the UK, it has emerged.

Only one of Wales’ eight universities was given the highest ‘Gold Award’ in the latest Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – Bangor.

Aberystwyth University did not take part

Cardiff, Cardiff Met, Swansea and Glyndwr universities all secured silver for 2017 despite vastly different resources, but The University of Aberystwyth and University of South Wales (USW) did not take part at all.

Both have featured prominently on The Eye. 

Almost three years ago we showed how controversial Aberystwyth had plunged in The Guardian and dropped from 70th to 87th in the Complete University Guide. 

‘Take these tables with a pinch of salt’

A petition was started demanding the immediate resignation of the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor April McMahon.

On the petition one student from Birmingham wrote: “I came to Aberystwyth in 2011 expecting to leave with a degree from a well-renowned university.

“I am now leaving this year with the university having fallen 33 places in the Guardian University League Table in the space of only two years!!”

Peter Curran – ‘significant implications’

Professor McMahon said the tables had to be taken “with a pinch of salt”.

A crisis also erupted in the university’s finances.

The former director of finance Peter Curran, said: “The financial implications of under-recruitment have never been so significant”

His comments came after the number of students accepted at Aberystwyth plunged by 25 per cent in the two years before 2013 while applications by UK and EU students dropped by 15.2 per cent a year later.

John Grattan – a ‘challenge’

The plunge in student numbers was further exacerbated by Brexit.

John Grattan, then ‘acting’ Vice-Chancellor at the university, said about 50 applicants pulled out the day after the Brexit vote.

“I won’t hide it from you that Brexit poses a challenge to the university,” Mr Grattan told students during a graduation ceremony.


Derec Llwyd Morgan -‘madness’

Yet even before this, the university had opened a campus on the holiday island of Mauritius, which a previous Vice-Chancellor described as “madness”.

Professor McMahon finally stepped down after we predicted she may be forced out.

The USW has also been in the news for the wrong reasons after details were revealed by us.

In November 2015 we showed how the Information Commissioner had ruled that officials had breached the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by withholding crucial information.

USW Caerleon campus closure – a ‘breach’

The commissioner found that the reason to withhold some information on the closure of the USW Caerleon campus “did not outweigh the public interest” and “the university breached sections 10(1) and 17(1) in failing to disclose information relevant to the request and failing to issue a refusal notice within the required timescales”.

USW also faced huge criticism after the award of an Honorary Doctorate to a ‘celebrity’ fashion designer, amid mounting anger at a roll call of decorations presented by lower-ranked educational institutions to TV stars.

Jeff Banks, one of many to get an ‘honorary degree’

Staff slammed the decision to give the honour to the fashion guru and former host of BBC TV’s ‘The Clothes Show’, Jeff Banks

The Vice-Chancellor of USW, Julie Lydon, was confronted with calls that she step down.

In all, more than 1,400 honorary degrees have been conferred by the 50 lowest-ranking British universities since 2011 — with scores of celebrities benefiting.

Perhaps taking part in an excellence ranking is a better way of boosting performance than honouring celebrities, withholding information, or plunging down performance tables.



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