The new chair of Higher Education Wales has become the latest voice to question whether the Cardiff government should subsidise the tuition fees of Welsh students who study elsewhere in the UK.
Colin Riordan, the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, called for a review of university funding in Wales and a cross-party consensus on future policy.
Currently, Welsh students are technically charged up to £9,000 a year by all universities in the UK, but government subsidies mean they have to pay only the first £3,575.
“The issue is that the Welsh government subsidises tuition fees, which means money for higher education is spread around more than Wales,” Professor Riordan told Times Higher Education.
Instead, this money could be used to support Welsh students from the most deprived areas, helping them to progress through higher education using university preparation courses and financial assistance all the way up to PhD level, he suggested.
He stopped short of explicitly calling for all tuition fee subsidies outside Wales to end, acknowledging that such a move would “clearly” be a “political issue”.
“I think the position needs to be reviewed” and could be made “fairer for students in Wales”, he said.
Professor Riordan, who took on his new position at the beginning of this academic year, has questioned the government’s tuition fee policy before in his capacity as Cardiff’s vice-chancellor, but not as chair of Higher Education Wales, which represents the country’s universities.
Plaid Cymru has called for the tuition fee subsidy to be scrapped for Welsh students who study outside the country, although Cardiff’s Labour government has repeatedly argued that the policy is financially sustainable.
Professor Riordan takes the helm not long after the appointment of a new education minister, Huw Lewis, who took over in June after the resignation of his controversial predecessor, Leighton Andrews.
During his tenure, Mr Andrews forced through two major university mergers, which will ultimately cut the number of institutions in the country from 11 to eight.
His merger agenda is largely complete, although a question mark still hangs over Glyndwr University, which awaits the release of a report into its future carried out by Sir Adrian Webb, former vice-chancellor of the University of Glamorgan.
But Professor Riordan said that Wales was now in a “post-reconfiguration era” and all the “noises” from the government and universities “are indicating that we have reached the end of that particular activity”.