The Welsh higher education budget has left universities in the principality with a multimillion-pound funding gap that could leave them unable to compete with England, it was warned this week.
Andrew Davies, the Welsh Assembly Government's Finance Minister, presented his budget for scrutiny by the Assembly last week. The Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition has allocated £618.5 million to higher education, an increase of 1.4 per cent this year, subject to final approval.
But Higher Education Wales, which represents Wales's vice-chancellors, said the annual average increase in the higher education budget will be just 0.66 per cent in real terms between 2008-09 and 2010-11.
The Comprehensive Spending Review for "HE and adult skills" in England over the same period shows an annual average increase in investment of 2 per cent a year, leaving a gap of £41 million.
Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, said: "If this gap increases further, it will bring into question Wales's ability to compete with England in quality of education delivery."
A spokesperson for the Welsh Assembly Government said: "The Comprehensive Spending Review figures for England have not been broken down in detail, but for higher education they include student finance and capital.
"In England, student finance payments are set to increase as a result of the increased numbers qualifying for full support on household income up to £25,000.
"In Wales, a Strategic Capital Investment Board will decide on £400 million of additional investment over the budgetary period to support strategic, mission-critical capital projects. This board's investment is over and above the capital already allocated to departmental priorities.
"Wales also has access to European regional and convergence funding not available across much of the UK and bringing a total of £124 million to higher education institutions during the last programme (2000-2006).
"Furthermore, Wales has been investing in higher education above (the level in) England in terms of investment per head of population."