A crisis-hit university running a controversial management school may demolish one of its newest buildings, just a few years after swallowing huge amounts of public money to create it, prompting the fury of their staff, The Eye can reveal.
Plans have been lodged by Swansea university to pull down the institution’s ‘digital’ Technium, which is only 13 years old and was initially part-funded by EU money.
But the move has caused huge anger among academics who are deeply critical of the plan.
One told us: “Many others (buildings) in a far worse state of repair will remain, which is symptomatic of incompetent leadership and a sycophantic estates team.”
Officials have confirmed to The Eye: “Swansea University is committed to improving facilities at Singleton Campus to enhance student experience.
“Draft proposals around redevelopment of the Technium site are part of this.”
The shocking news comes soon after the entire Technium project was criticised as a “waste of money” without showing “any clear rationale”.
The programme was established in Wales in the early 2000s to foster new high-tech companies in state-of-the-art buildings using university research to lever in large numbers of highly-paid jobs.
Atogether 10 Techniums were built across the country at a total cost of £93.4 million, of which 89 per cent was from the public sector.
The Swansea digital Technium alone had a cost price tag of £9,551,488.
It was claimed Techniums would:
- Provide incubation space for exciting companies with growth potential.
- Act as a highly-visible vehicle for company-academia links.
- Provide an attractive way for global companies to invest in Wales in high value-added activities.
- Host mixed private/public sector support teams.
- Act as strong physical focal points for the (then) Welsh Assembly Government innovation communication campaign.
But for Swansea university’s Technium and others it did not turn out that way.
Many of them were largely unoccupied and expensive to maintain.
Occupancy rates in the Pembrokeshire Technium were only four per cent.
Indeed, the then Welsh Development Agency and later Welsh Government officials privately referred to the Pembrokeshire Technium as “Emptium” and the Llanelli site as “Desertium”.
An evaluation of the programme by the consultancy firm DTZ revealed that, on average, each new job cost £190,000 of public money.
In their report it emerged that securing information was difficult.
They said: “Few of the Techniums have explicit stated objectives, and where they are available they tend to differ between Techniums.”
Simon Gibson, chief executive of hi-tech venture capital investment company Wesley Clover, stressed that great ideas and companies should come first – not investment in buildings.
In 2010, the Welsh Government lost patience and six Techniums were closed.
The entire project was closely linked to the contentious head of Swansea university’s management school Marc Clement.
He was a key figure in a scholarship scheme at the centre of a scandal over funding.
Under the £11.4 million Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarship (POWIS) top graduates from all over the world were meant to be singled out for PhD projects that would see them embedded in new hi-tech companies of the sort the Techniums were supposed to attract.
Each student was to receive a stipend of £20,000 a year, as well as a research grant of £5,000 and get all tuition fees paid.
Prince Charles said when the scheme was launched: “It seeks to take the best of Wales to the world and bring the best of the world to Wales.
“The scholarships are, I think, a very practical and very exciting response to how higher education can help the Welsh economy in a time of crisis.”
But in 2011 the Cardiff bay Government’s Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) withdrew financial backing from POWIS, which was run by the University of Wales (UoW) where Professor Clement was Vice Chancellor, after serious irregularities were identified by auditors.
In their report three men, including Professor Clement, were identified as having overlapping interests in seven companies.
But controversy has continued to dog the university, which has been in crisis as students past and present began a petition about the worth of their qualifications.
Professor Clement exercised a contentious ‘option to return’ to Swansea after a disastrous spell in charge at the University of Wales, when a huge row erupted over the validation of bogus degrees.
In November 2010, BBC Wales screened an episode of their TV current affairs series Week In Week Out which claimed that Fazley Yaakob, a pop star and head of Fazley International College, a UoW ‘partner’ in Malaysia, held bogus degrees.
Following a second BBC investigation, the vice-chancellors of Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor and Glamorgan universities – known collectively as the St David’s Day Group – called for an end to the UoW.
The UoW effectively abolished itself following a ‘merger’ with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s (UWTSD).
A senior academic told The Eye at the time of Professor Clement’s appointment to the university’s business school: “This seems a very strange appointment (Head of Swansea School of Management).
“Is he (Clement) really the person to head a business school which has been in crisis?”
It seems the crisis may be coming to an end.
With a wrecking ball.
On Friday on The Eye a stern letter to Swansea university from the Welsh Government about the plans to demolish their Technium.
Tomorrow why the BBC dismisses as ‘speculation’ mounting concern about numbers at Euros and level of their expenses.