Welsh push for financial control

January 31, 2003

Uncertainty over higher education funding in Wales is causing anxiety among vice-chancellors and student leaders.

The Welsh Assembly has promised to increase its efforts to complete negotiations with Westminster over proposals to devolve powers on student funding to Wales. It had expected last week's white paper to contain news that this had been agreed.

Vice-chancellors warned that it would be impossible for them to plan for the future until the issue was resolved. Some have also indicated that although they are against top-up fees, they may consider raising fees to avoid falling behind institutions in England in terms of quality and facilities.

Tony Chapman, vice-chancellor of the University of Wales Institute Cardiff and chairman of Higher Education Wales, said: "The uncertainty will cause Welsh institutions some discomfort. We need certainty about our funding future in order to plan.

"My impression is that most English universities are thinking of charging the maximum top-up fees. If they do, that will leave a significant funding gap between England and Wales that the assembly will need to address."

Roy Evans, vice-chancellor of the University of Wales Bangor, said it was "unsatisfactory" for Welsh institutions to be left waiting to hear whether the assembly would be allowed to make decisions independently of Westminster. The most important issue, he added, was maintaining the unit of resource, "however garnered". "There is still room for debate and I am prepared to keep my options open," he said.

The president of the National Union of Students Wales, Tom McGary, said Welsh students were "very worried" about the outcome of talks between the assembly and Westminster. "Most students feel they do not have reason to feel optimistic," he said.

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