Welsh v-cs find Assembly's £30m boost a bit smaller than expected

September 30, 2005

Welsh vice-chancellors were disappointed this week by the Welsh Assembly's decision to award their institutions an extra £30 million next year in compensation for not introducing top-up fees until 2007.

Higher Education Wales, which had calculated that the loss of fee income was worth at least £35 million, issued a cautious statement as the supplementary income was announced as part of the Assembly's draft budget for 2006-07.

David Warner, the principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education and the acting chairman of Hew, said that the potential impact on institutions of details of the award, such as its being spread over two financial years, needed to be analysed more closely.

He said: "We have not yet had time to consult all our members, but our first reaction is that the £30 million is a little lower than we had hoped for, and there are a number of details still to be clarified."

Commenting on the draft budget, Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson said that the extra money would ensure that neither Welsh institutions nor their students were disadvantaged by the manifesto commitment not to introduce top-up fees in Wales until 2007.

The budget also earmarks £22.3 million in 2007-08 and £34.5 million the following year to cover the cost of fee grants that will effectively exempt Welsh students studying in Wales from paying top-up fees.

Welsh vice-chancellors have been told they will have to wait until the end of the year for the outcome of an Assembly investigation into claims in this year's Rees review that there is a £330 million funding gap between higher education in Wales and the rest of the UK that must be addressed.

Some Assembly ministers have questioned whether the funding gap really exists.

But Professor Warner said this week: "Our position, until we see any contrary evidence, is that there is a gap, and it is significant."

The draft budget shows an £80 million increase in funding for student support in Wales next year, thanks largely to the devolvement and transfer of funds for this area from Westminster.

Supplementary income in lieu of top-up fees is split into a £20 million tranche in the 2006-07 financial year and a further £10 million the following year.

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