Maintenance grants for Welsh students should be "significantly higher" than those proposed in England, according to the academic who is leading a review of higher education funding and student finance in Wales.
Teresa Rees, professor of social sciences at Cardiff University, told The Times Higher she thought a generous grants and maintenance package was key to designing a better student finance system once powers were devolved to Wales via the higher education bill.
Support for Welsh students should be worth "much more" than the £1,500 grant plus tuition fee remission offered to the poorest English students, Professor Rees said, although she declined to say how much more.
Her comments came as the Welsh Assembly announced the terms of reference for the review, which is due to produce a final report by April next year.
Professor Rees and her review team have been asked to advise the assembly on the likely impact of introducing variable fees in Wales from 2007 and to recommend changes to the student support system.
She said: "The most contentious issue is variable fees. But it seems to me that the whole question of debt aversion is linked very much more to maintenance.
"We have too many students working in low-paid jobs just to make ends meet.
To tackle that, we must raise the value of grants. I think the level they have been set at by Westminster is too low."
She added that a recent visit to Australia had convinced her that its fee repayment system was worth considering. "We will be looking at a lot of international examples. The Australian one seems to work well, although it would require some changes to our tax system," she said.
Bill Wiggin, shadow Welsh secretary, said the Conservatives were hoping to deny the assembly devolved powers through an amendment to the higher education bill. "The assembly should not be responsible for setting top-up fees, because there should not be any top-up fees," he said.
Peter Black, Liberal Democrat assembly member for South Wales, said his party had worked out that devolved powers could be worth about £67 million to the assembly.
TERMS OF REFERENCE FOR REVIEW
To produce a final report by April 2005 advising the assembly on:
- The shape of the student support system in Wales
- The most appropriate use of devolved student support powers, and application of tuition fee powers
- The likely impact of the introduction of fees in England
- The likely effects of introducing variable fees in Wales from 2007 or of not doing so.