Funding for Welsh university students 'unsustainable'

University graduates

The way Welsh students are funded is unsustainable, the body representing universities in Wales has said.

The Welsh government pays the majority of Welsh students' tuition fees, wherever they choose to go in the UK.

On Monday, Universities Wales will publish its manifesto ahead of next year's Assembly elections calling for the current tuition fee grant to be replaced by a means tested grant.

The Welsh government said its policy was an "investment in young people".

University Wales's chairman Prof Colin Riordan said means testing would be fairer.

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Media captionProf Colin Riordan, chair of Universities Wales, says the tuition fees system must change

He told BBC Wales' Sunday Politics programme: "You could decide to spend the resource equally and thinly or you can say 'let's focus on the areas of most need' - so those people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, perhaps, or areas which need support such as expensive subjects".

'Surely fair'

Universities have long argued the grant means tens of millions of pounds leaves the higher education sector in Wales and goes to the coffers of their counterparts in England.

Prof Riordan added: "Means testing would mean that those students who really need support would get it.

"Those who are more able to support themselves would be able to do that. That's surely fair."

Earlier this month the UK government's Universities Minister Jo Johnson said institutions in England would be allowed to raise their fees in future if they can demonstrate a high quality of teaching.

But Prof Riordan said it "would add cost to the tuition fee grant in ways that could become quite unsustainable".

The tuition fee grant has faced criticism from many involved with Higher Education in Wales.

'Uncertain financial future'

Earlier this year, the head of the body responsible for allocating funding to universities in Wales said the Welsh government needs to change how it funds students from Wales to avoid universities here falling behind their English counterparts.

In 2013, BBC Wales revealed the body representing universities here had concerns they were losing out compared to their counterparts in England because of the tuition fee grant.

BBC Wales has also revealed concerns expressed by the finance directors of universities in Wales that the grant left the sector "with an uncertain financial future".

In November 2013, the Welsh government announced a review of higher education funding and student finance arrangements in Wales, which is chaired by the Scottish academic, Professor Ian Diamond.

Prof Diamond will make some of his thoughts public later this year, with the full review expected to be published after the Assembly elections in May next year.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "Our tuition fee policy is an investment in young people.

"Over the course of a three year undergraduate degree, current students from Wales are around £17,000 better off than their English counterparts.

"The Diamond review of higher education and student finance in Wales is ongoing. Once published, it will inform the next steps for higher education funding in Wales."

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