Uni fees subsidy for Welsh students
Welsh students will be protected from increased tuition fees, the Welsh Assembly Government says.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews made the commitment as he outlined Wales' response to the UK government's plan to increase fees in England.
In Wales, basic tuition fees will rise to £6,000 per annum, or £9,000 in some circumstances.
But the assembly government will meet the cost of extra fees for students from Wales attending any UK university.
In a statement to the Senedd chamber, Mr Andrews said: "In other words, the increase in fees for Welsh domiciled students, whether they study in England or Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland, will be paid by the Welsh Assembly Government.
"Welsh domiciled students will not have to find either £6,000 or £9,000 to study.
"The public purse will continue to subsidise higher education for Welsh domiciled students.
"Welsh students who go to university in 2012-13 will be paying the same in real terms as students who go to university in this academic year."
"I believe that the arrangements we've put in place are both fair, equitable and sustainable," he added.
He told AMs he was proposing to pay for the subsidy by top-slicing the teaching grant for Welsh universities.
He added: "Higher education should be on the basis of the individual's potential to benefit, and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay.
"This is a 'Made in Wales' policy which demonstrates the benefits of devolution. We are preserving the principle that the state will subsidise higher education and maintain opportunities for all."
The income repayment threshold for student loans will increase from £15,000 to £21,000 with a variable progressive rate of interest charged depending on income.
Part-time students will be able to access a tuition fee loan depending on the level of intensity of their course.
In addition, Welsh domiciled students will continue to be eligible for subsidised loans to meet the costs of the current level of tuition fee, £3290 per annum, plus inflation in future years.
The new arrangements will apply only to students starting university in September 2012.
Should Parliament refuse to endorse the proposals of the UK government, the Welsh Assembly Government will develop an alternative approach.
Welsh Conservatives education spokesman, Paul Davies AM, said: "It has become increasingly clear that the current funding arrangements for Welsh higher education institutions are unsustainable.
"The policy of no top-up fees, which the Welsh Conservatives have supported for many years, has resulted in increased economic activity in Wales' university towns and cities.
"The challenge now is to ensure we can improve the competitiveness of Wales' higher education institutions and at the same time narrow the funding gap which has widened between Welsh institutions and those in other nations of the UK."
Welsh Lib Dems said the scheme had "merit" but said Mr Andrews was "vague" on its long-term funding.
Education spokesperson Jenny Randerson AM said: "This must be a plan for the long term not a short-term electoral fix for the Labour-Plaid [Welsh assembly] government."
Mr Andrews' statement came as tens of thousands of students in England protested again against the planned fees increase there.
About 100 students marched from Cardiff University to Queen Street in the city centre. South Wales Police said the protest "passed relatively peacefully without major incident". One male was arrested for a public order offence.
A similar number held a protest march in Bangor and A-level students at the Gorseinon campus of Gower College Swansea also held a protest march in the morning.
Higher Education Wales, the representative body for the higher education sector in Wales, welcomed Mr Andrews' announcement.
Chair Prof Noel Lloyd said: "This appears to be good news for Welsh domiciled students and sees Wales taking a different direction in its support to students relative to England."