The Welsh government’s policy of subsidising the tuition fees of students who choose to study elsewhere in the UK has come under renewed pressure after it emerged that the cost is set to top £90 million.
Welsh students currently pay the first £3,685 of their tuition fees, wherever they study in the UK, and the Cardiff government pays the rest.
Forecasting seen by Times Higher Education states that the Welsh government is likely to pay £91 million towards the fees of students studying outside Wales during 2014-15, the first year in which three full cohorts of learners face tuition fees of up to £9,000 in the rest of the UK. The vast majority study in England, where 8,090 Welsh domiciles started courses in 2014-15, up 25 per cent on 2011-12, according to Ucas.
Critics argue that the money would be better spent on Welsh universities, and fear that the cost could increase further when England lifts its cap on student numbers this autumn.
Simon Thomas, the Plaid Cymru education spokesman, said the current policy was “looking less and less sustainable after this Assembly term”.
“Although we wouldn’t want to erect walls and physically stop people choosing where to study, I think we have an obligation to think that this is Welsh education money and about the best use we can make of it,” he said. “I don’t think we are making the maximum positive use of it that we could.”
The forecasts emerged as a consultation on the future of higher education funding in Wales nears its conclusion. Sir Ian Diamond, principal of the University of Aberdeen, is carrying out a review.
A Welsh government spokeswoman said that the cross-border outlay would be offset by in excess of £100 million of income to Welsh universities in tuition fees from students domiciled in the rest of the UK, leaving the sector in surplus.
“We have been very clear that our tuition fee policy is an investment in the young person and that the choice of institution and course should be driven by individual circumstances, not by the cost of fees,” the spokeswoman said.