The Welsh Assembly has called for an urgent review of higher education funding following an outcry from universities over the prospect of cuts, writes Tony Tysome.
Jane Davidson, the assembly's lifelong learning minister, has written to Welsh Funding Council chief executive Steve Martin urging him to "revisit" last week's higher education allocations, described as "deplorable" by some vice-chancellors.
Taking student numbers into account, the allocations for next year amounted to a 0.5 per cent gain in overall recurrent funding for the sector, despite an 8.1 per cent increase in the assembly grant for this financial year.
The funding council said it had "smoothed over" a projected drop in the assembly grant for the following year to arrive at an average 0.65 per cent cash increase for 2001-02.
The calculation was made more complex because the funding council works in academic years, while the assembly is governed by financial years.
But Ms Davidson said this failed to take into account the fact that the assembly's figures were provisional and likely to be revised following the outcome this summer of its higher education review.
In her letter to Mr Martin, she warned: "The Hefcw has published planning figures that appear to reduce an 8 per cent growth to an average figure of 0.65 per cent, with some institutions receiving a cut in the money available.
"We are in danger of undermining the ambition that is necessary in the sector if there is to be the dynamic growth that we all want to see."
She called for assembly and funding council officials to work together over the next month "so that we can make a further statement to assist financial planning in the sector".
The minister had received representations over the allocations from the council of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. In a letter signed by Aberystwyth's vice-chancellor Derec Llwyd Morgan, it says council members are "deeply critical of the deplorable grant settlement".
Sir Adrian Webb, vice-chancellor of the University of Glamorgan and chairman of Higher Education Wales, said: "It is understandable that some institutions are concerned, because, if the allocations remain as they are, they will face significant redundancies. We need a few weeks for officials to sort this out."
Phil Gummett, Hefcw's head of higher education, said: "We welcome the opportunity to work with the assembly. We look forward to clarifying with their officials what an appropriate level of growth means."