A wide-ranging review of higher education in Wales is to be launched by the Welsh Assembly.
The move has been hailed by Steve Martin, the new chief executive of the Welsh funding councils for further and higher education, as a "golden opportunity" for the assembly to recognise the economic significance of the sector.
The review's terms of reference were due to be considered by the assembly's post-16 education and training committee this week. The review is expected to run from October to March next year and to focus on identifying a vision and strategy for the future of Welsh higher education. The committee is planning to appoint an expert adviser to help conduct the review and to produce a report on its conclusions.
Mr Martin told The THES he hoped the funding councils could work with the assembly through the review to ensure that higher education was playing a key role in economic regeneration and development.
He said: "After the National Health Service, this is the biggest spending area that comes under the assembly. We have three times the budget of the Welsh Development Agency. I would argue that while the WDA is important, the task of educating and training the workforce will help the assembly realise its longer-term ambitions."
He added that the scale of the sector would need to be looked at, together with the potential for mergers and closer collaboration between institutions.
The review is to consider the scope for collaboration, along with the range of disciplines and activities within Welsh higher education, Wales's relatively poor record for attracting income from the research councils, and student financial support and how this affects recruitment.
It will also address deficiencies in the assembly's statutory powers on higher education and look into whether changes are needed.
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