A university has hailed as a success a competition to award a student free tuition for life after it boosted applications by 6 per cent in the week it was launched.
The Lifetime Scholarship at Cardiff University, which gives the winner the right to study as many degrees at the institution as desired for free, was launched partly in response to increasing competition for students across the UK.
But the National Union of Students has accused Cardiff of running a "Hunger Games-style survival of the fittest" - a reference to Suzanne Collins' novel in which teenagers take part in a televised battle to the death in a post-apocalyptic North America.
Chris Nation, an 18-year-old studying at a state sixth-form college in Somerset, won the prize last week after six finalists were assessed via interviews, group challenges and presentations.
George Boyne, chair of the university's undergraduate recruitment campaign, said that he was "delighted" with the initiative, which had "generated a lot of interest".
In December, when the scholarship was launched as part of Thrive, a Cardiff marketing campaign to attract prospective students, the university benefited from a 6 per cent boost in applications compared with the same week the previous year, Professor Boyne said.
The campaign was "partly a response to the changing market we face", he said, adding: "This recruitment round will be tougher than previous years."
The scholarship was awarded to help an "exceptional student" but also to generate "publicity" for Cardiff, he acknowledged.
"Any organisation in a competitive market context needs to maintain its profile," he added.
Professor Boyne said that allegations that the scholarship was a "gimmick" were unfair and that other bursaries and scholarships had not been affected by the scheme.
He acknowledged that money from the Lifetime Scholarship could have been used to fund a larger number of smaller prizes, but argued that Cardiff had been "looking for an exceptional applicant".
Mr Nation said that he planned to do a master's course in the US after his undergraduate law degree, and would return to Cardiff to complete a doctorate after three to four years pursuing a career.
"I have a lot of things that interest me," he said. "There's always the chance to do another degree or evening class." He added that he would even consider returning for further study post-retirement.
Liam Burns, president of the NUS, congratulated Mr Nation on winning the scholarship, but said it amounted to "exploitative promotion" and was "sickening".
"Contextualised admissions have a place but when they are followed by a press release, I can't help but be sceptical," he said.