Higher education postcard: University of Wales

This week's card from Hugh Jones’ postbag shows that the Victorians loved a federal university

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

In 1893, university education was really taking off in Wales. University College, Aberystwyth had been founded in 1872, and it was joined in 1883 by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, based in Cardiff, and in 1884 by the University College of North Wales, in Bangor.

Students were learning and gaining degrees. From the University of London.

That was a state of affairs which did not match the national ambitions of Victorian Wales, so after fundraising and campaigning, a scheme was adopted whereby an examining and degree-awarding body, similar to the University of London, would be established, except that it would only be able to award degrees to students who had studied at the three university colleges. The University of Wales received a Royal Charter in 1893.

The plan was that of John Viriamu Jones, the Principal of University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. He was the son of Christian missionaries to the pacific islands: Viriamu was the local spelling of Williams.

The University’s administrative offices – shown on the card – are in Cardiff. In 1902 the Cardiff corporation gave to the University land in Cathays Park, and £6,000 towards the construction of a building. The offices were complete by 1904, the first of the buildings in Cardiff’s imperial quarter.

Other institutions joined the University of Wales over the years:

  • University College Swansea in 1923
  • Welsh national school of medicine in 1931
  • University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology in 1967
  • St David’s College, Lampeter in 1971
  • University Wales Institute, Cardiff and the University of Wales College, Newport in 1996

In 2004 there was another influx, as four institutions became members:

  • North East Wales Institute of Higher Education (NEWI)
  • Swansea Institute of Higher Education
  • Trinity College, Carmarthen
  • Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama

But by now there were exits as well as entrances – Cardiff University ceased to admit students for University Wales degrees in 2005; the Royal Welsh left in 2007; and the university moved to a confederal structure as Aberystwyth, Bangor, Glyndŵr (NEWI as was), Swansea Metropolitan (nee the Swansea Institute) and Swansea universities started to use that title while staying within the university.

In 2008 Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea also decided to award their own degrees.

As well as awarding degrees to successful students at its members, the university had entered the world of collaborative provision. And in 2010 the roof came crashing down about its head. It emerged that two partner colleges, one in Malaysia and one in Thailand, were operating improperly, in various ways. A subsequent QAA report identified a more general failure to conduct due diligence when it established validation links. And then in 2011 it emerged that a London partner college was engaged in visa fraud.

Five Welsh vice chancellors – Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan and Swansea – called for the university to be wound up. And this was done de facto (but still not yet de jure) by incorporation of the university’s activities into the University of Wales Trinity St David (which was the product of the merger of Trinity College Carmarthen and St David’s College Lampeter, and was also merging with Swansea Metropolitan University) in 2013.

Ten years later and the university still exists, on paper at least. Its collaborative provision is still in the process of being wound up, but its charter has not yet been revoked, even though a deed of union with Trinity St David’s has been extant since 2017.

The university’s motto is Goreu Awen Gwirionedd, which translates as the best inspiration is truth.

The card was sent to Miss Cooper in Felixstowe on 20 July 1908.

Dear Dolly, just a card to thank you for your card hoping you are enjoying yourselves and having fine weather we are having better weather these last few days. Give my love to Ethel and thank you very much for the card you sent Elsie she was pleased. Goodbye, Beaty

2 responses to “Higher education postcard: University of Wales

  1. Of course, the story would make a little more sense if it was noted that St David’s College Lampeter was found before UoW, with degree awarding powers.

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