'Spend spare £30m on pay rise'

June 4, 2004

Welsh funding bodies are sitting on about £30 million that could be used by cash-strapped universities to cover academic pay rises, nationalists have claimed, writes Tony Tysome.

Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly members have called for the release of cash that they claim is being held by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Education and Learning Wales (Elwa) and the Welsh Assembly.

Janet Ryder, the party's education spokeswoman, claimed that the bodies had between them ring-fenced £30 million for special initiatives and the reconfiguration of the higher education sector.

She said the money was desperately needed now by the cash-strapped universities, which were struggling to meet the costs of the latest pay deal for academic staff.

Ms Ryder said: "Whereas English universities have had substantial funding council support to help them cover the pay agreement, Welsh institutions have not had a penny. They desperately need this money because their surpluses are dwindling, and they have nothing to fall back on."

But Jane Davidson, assembly Education Minister, rejected Plaid Cymru's calls for the assembly to rescue the institutions.

The HEFCW declined to comment on Plaid Cymru's claims.

Concerns have also grown over the financial state of Welsh further education colleges following reports from their representative body, Fforwm, that nearly half face a deficit and some have already started to close courses.

Ms Davidson told Fforwm that the assembly was having to make "hard choices" over further education funding, and colleges had a "responsibility to prevent well-intentioned ambition outstripping funds".

An Elwa spokeswoman acknowledged that this year's funding settlement for colleges was "challenging", adding that the council would work with Fforwm to "identify cost pressures".

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