A centre aimed at preparing international students for degrees at 11 Welsh higher education institutions has been set up as part of a drive to capitalise on a 36 per cent rise in the number of overseas students in the principality in the past five years.
The University of Wales, Newport, has set up a public-private partnership with Study Group International, supported by the Wales International Consortium, International Business Wales and the British Council Wales.
Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, this week opened the Wales International Study Centre (WISC), hailing it as "another first" for the principality.
Virginia West, director of the Wales International Consortium, said: "With international students at Welsh institutions up by 36 per cent in the past five years, there has never been a better time for a partnership of this scale."
Nick Rhodes, Study Group's strategic development director, said setting up the WISC had taken two years of discussion across Wales. Every Welsh higher education institution is participating apart from Swansea University, which already has an agreement with Australian-based IBT Education.
Study Group anticipates that students will come predominantly from China and elsewhere in Asia. It unveiled the scheme in China last week.
One hundred students are expected by the new calendar year, and the number of entrants is expected to rise to 500 within five years. Mr Rhodes said this would represent a significant contribution to the Welsh economy.
Wales is becoming increasingly competitive in the market for international students, seeking to stress lower costs and high quality of life.
The consortium calculates an average annual student living cost of only £6,500, compared with about £12,000 a year in London.
"There is a growing middle class in Asian countries who are able to afford higher education abroad but are still sensitive to cost. They will be saving literally thousands of pounds," Mr Rhodes said.
Controversy has dogged the trend for institutions to outsource English-language tuition to private providers. But Mr Rhodes said: "We coexist with English language departments very happily. There is an absolute understanding that we are providing what (universities) don't provide - there is zero overlap."
- INTO University Partnerships, a private provider of English language tuition and "academic pathway" courses, this week launched INTO Manchester, a partnership with the University of Manchester. The new student centre will provide pre-university education for up to 1,000 international students seeking to attend the university.