Scots, Welsh fear student influx and staff brain drain

January 23, 2003

Key points

  • Scots fear losing academics to richer English higher education institutions
  • Welsh locked in discussions with Clarke and demand greater powers from Westminster. They remain reluctant to impose top-up fees
  • Welsh universities line up to support assembly's tough line

The Welsh Assembly has been left wondering whether or not it is to be handed powers over student funding.

Education secretary Charles Clarke told MPs that he was considering devolving powers to the assembly to allow it to abolish tuition fees. But he said that such a move would require complex decisions.

His comments followed speculation that a deal had already been brokered between Mr Clarke and assembly education minister Jane Davidson.

Ms Davidson said: "The issues are not straightforward. However, we strongly believe that the assembly should have the scope to take these decisions."

There are fears that some of the white-paper proposals could prove inappropriate for Wales, which is already nearly two years into a ten-year plan to reorganise higher education and has introduced its own maintenance grant scheme.

Phil Gummett, head of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, said: "We will be wanting to maintain the competitiveness of higher education institutions in Wales."

Tony Chapman, principal of the University of Wales Institute Cardiff and chairman of Higher Education Wales, said: "We are totally behind assembly ministers."

There is just as little enthusiasm for top-up fees in Scotland, but there are concerns about an influx of English applicants compounded by an academic brain drain.

Alex Neil, convener of the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee, said: "The dangers are that poor  kids end up not going to university, that we lose our brightest academics to richer universities south of the border, and we don't get enough money ploughed into our university system to be able to compete effectively."

He urged the recall of the independent Cubie committee to look at student and institutional funding in Scotland. Bill Stevely, convener of Universities Scotland, said it looked as if the new money for English universities would be three times that for Scotland.


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