Funding gap 'exaggerated'

January 27, 2006

Fears that Welsh academics are having to cope with much lower funding levels than their colleagues in English universities appear to be largely unfounded according to an official report.

The Welsh higher education sector would need at most an extra £26 million a year to put it on a level funding platform with the English sector, researchers have concluded.

Members of the Welsh Assembly urged an investigation into funding levels after previous estimates put the funding shortfall at four times that figure.

The latest report follows six months of grappling with complex calculations and weighing up numerous variations in the way higher education is funded in the two countries.

In fact, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which produced the paper, claims that it is impossible to put a single figure on the Welsh sector's financial shortfall relative to England's funding arrangements.

Last summer, a report on a review of higher education in Wales, led by Cardiff University pro vice-chancellor Teresa Rees, called for an investigation into a funding gap with England, which had been estimated by Universities UK to be as much as £330 million covering the period from 2005-06 to 2007-08.

The Hefcw report, circulated to Welsh institutions last week, is littered with caveats to a variety of calculation methods leading to a conclusion that the gap is "somewhere in the range between £16 million and £26 million".

The precise value of the gap "may be closer to the top end of the range than the bottom given the types of error in the underlying data", the report continues.

But the report is quick to add: "Without firm evidence, it might be prudent to assume that the value lies somewhere in the middle of the range."

Opposition Assembly members have called for the gap to be closed with additional funding for Welsh institutions. But the Hefcw report confirms that overall higher-education spending in Wales per head of population is in fact higher than in England.

Peter Black, the Welsh Liberal Democrat education spokesman who chairs the Assembly's Education Committee, said: "The reason this report was commissioned was to come up with a definitive estimate of the gap, rather than relying on lots of figures that were being bandied about.

"The politicians will now have to discuss its conclusions to decide how to address the funding gap in full."

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