Sweeping changes to university funding in Wales will widen access and deliver true lifelong learning opportunities, the Welsh funding council said this week.
Under a pioneering funding methodology, Welsh institutions will be able to offer students bite-size fractions of degree courses. All students will be able to dip easily into and out of courses and to move seamlessly between institutions over the course of their lives.
The Welsh universities have agreed to end the system of funding by student places and will eventually be funded on the basis of the learning "credits" they offer.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales said the system will take "higher education into the new millennium".
It is widely expected that the system will inevitably move to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Welsh universities already have a fully integrated system of modular degrees under a common "credit framework". Each course is split into modules that attract a credit value, based on students' "learning outcomes".
Students can accumulate credit and transfer it between institutions as they work towards full qualifications. Now universities will be given funds according to the number of credits being studied by their students.
"The new system allows for much greater flexibility as institutions can offer parts of courses to people," said Anne Hughes, head of funding for the HEFCW. "It also allows for greater student mobility as they can take breaks in their study and stop and start."
John Andrews, chief executive of the HEFCW, said: "Funding by credit value will help institutions for lifelong learning and widen access to higher education."
The system will be phased in for all taught courses by 2002 under plans outlined in a HEFCW circular, The New Teaching Funding Method.
Plans are already under way to link the system with further education, which is already funded by credit.