The new education minister in Wales has announced a major review of higher education that could potentially pave the way for an end to tuition fee subsidies for Welsh students who go to university in England.
Huw Lewis said it was time to “take stock” of the Cardiff government’s fee policy.
Welsh students are charged no more than £3,575 in tuition fees no matter where they study in the UK, as the Cardiff government funds the rest through a grant.
The policy is unique in the UK, as Scottish students only study for free if they attend a university in Scotland. They are charged up to £9,000 if they opt for an institution in England.
The Cardiff government’s policy has come under attack from critics who say it means money that could be spent on universities in Wales flows out of the country to English universities that take Welsh students.
In a statement to coincide with the speech, Mr Lewis said that the current fees policy was “popular, affordable and sustainable” and would be in place for the remainder of the Labour government’s term in office, which runs until the next Welsh Assembly election in 2016.
But he added: “Now seems the right time for us to take stock and to consider the future in the light of the rapid and unpredictable change facing the sector”.
The review will look at social mobility and widening access, funding, the full-time and part-time tuition fees policy, student finance, cross-border funding policy and the role of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales in the delivery of student finance.
Mr Lewis also said he was “not satisfied that the measures employed in relation to widening access are either comprehensive or sufficiently stretching.”
“In my view we should be looking, in a more sustained, structured and determined way, at the relationships universities have with their communities to raise expectations and support achievement on the part of individuals who might never have seen themselves as ‘university material’,” he added.