Welsh higher education received a financial fillip this week as funding council heads admitted institutions in Wales were facing "a time of nervousness".
Grant allocations of £324 million for 2005-06, announced on Wednesday by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, amount to an overall 4.95 per cent increase on last year's total - comparing favourably with a 3.4 per cent rise in Scotland and 3.1 per cent in England. After inflation, the increase amounts to about £123 per student.
On top of this formula funding, the HEFCW has another £12 million to distribute among institutions that show they are making progress on the Welsh Assembly Government's agenda for mergers and collaboration.
Phil Gummett, HEFCW chief executive, said that in future this money may be divided into pots earmarked for specific projects. The Assembly has given funding council officials until the end of July to come up with proposals.
Professor Gummett said that the funding council was aware that the introduction of top-up fees in England next year was making Welsh institutions wary, despite this year's increases.
"There is a natural nervousness in the sector. It's a sensitive time for us, particularly over uncertainty about the future of student support in Wales compared with the clarity that now exists in England," he said.
This week's allocations include a £1 million boost in HEFCW's third mission fund, and a 1 per cent real-terms increase in funding for both teaching and research.
But the overall increase masks a wide variation in the fortunes of Wales's 12 higher education institutions. The biggest overall rise, an increase of 7.97 per cent, will come as a relief to Lampeter University, whose financial position has looked shaky in recent years.
The University of Wales Institute Cardiff is another significant winner, with a 6.44 per cent rise. But its prospective merger partner, University of Wales Newport, finds itself nearer the bottom of the pile with a 3.88 per cent increase.
TEACHING AND RESEARCH GRANTS
Grants for Teaching (£)
Grants for research (£)
North East Wales Institute of Higher Education
Swansea Institute of Higher Education
Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies
*This total includes allocations for postgraduate research training, research infrastructure, per capita, widening access, Welsh medium and disability, details of which we have not included in this table