The Welsh Government’s controversial tuition fee policy is ploughing up to £15.3m into five universities in England, figures uncovered by the Welsh Conservatives have revealed.
Data compiled by leader of the opposition Andrew RT Davies shows that based on the potential tuition fee subsidy of £5,500, as much as £15.3m could be lost to the top five most popular universities alone.
A Freedom of Information request found that Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Liverpool and Chester take the most Welsh-domiciled students and the universities currently have 2,778 undergraduates enrolled.
A decision to subsidise Welsh students wherever in the UK they choose to study currently costs the Welsh Government up to £5,500 per student, who continue to pay in the region of £3,500.
University teaching grants have been “top-sliced” to pay for the subsidy and vice-chancellors are reliant on students themselves covering the cost of money lost.
But changes in the way higher education is funded in Wales has led to concerns around the amount of Welsh money being lost to universities in England.
Earlier this week, Cardiff University vice-chancellor Professor Colin Riordan called on new Education Minister Huw Lewis to re-visit student funding policies to ensure Welsh institutions do not continue to lose out.
Prof Riordan said universities in Wales were as much as £1,500 per student worse off in some subjects because of the Welsh Government’s policy.
Mr Davies said: “These figures reveal just how much our Welsh universities are losing to their counterparts across the border in England.
“For every student from Wales who wants to study at an English university, the Welsh Government is paying up to £5,500 for every year of study to that institution.
“Labour must now start listening to the views of university vice-chancellors and revisit this policy to ensure value for money for the taxpayer, broaden access and raise standards of teaching and research in higher education to the best in the UK.”
It has previously been estimated that as much as £50m of Welsh Government funding ends up going to universities in England that would normally be spent on universities in Wales.
Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns said: “From the start, it was clear that Labour’s £3.6bn tuition fee subsidy was cobbled together on the back of an envelope as a pre-election gimmick.
“Now it’s been in operation, we are seeing the damaging effects it is having on our universities by sending much needed resources over the border and makes it even more difficult to raise standards.
“These figures reveal just how much our higher education sector is losing to universities in England simply because Labour ministers want to play party politics.
“Just five universities in England are earning as much as £15.3m from the Welsh Government every year – money which could be spent recruiting additional lecturers, investing in new facilities or expanding research potential here in Wales.
“Labour’s tuition fee subsidy was intended to improve access to higher education for Welsh students, yet the number of applications from Welsh-domiciled students is actually falling, while the reputation of our higher education sector is being put at risk… I hope the new Education Minister will take this policy back to the drawing board.”
Plaid Cymru’s education spokesman Simon Thomas said: “We passionately support the principle of low tuition fees, and we brought this policy forward when we were in government.
“However, the policy we signed up to when we were in government was based on lower estimates, and we are concerned that the Welsh Government’s current policy is unsustainable.”
A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “We believe we have a responsibility to all of our students wherever they choose to study in the UK. As we have outlined on a number of occasions, total income available to the Welsh higher education sector will increase significantly when compared to the previous funding model.
“We have consistently confirmed that the policy is fully costed and is sustainable for the lifetime of this Government.
“It is time to acknowledge that while the policy does mean that a significant amount of fee grant is being paid to Welsh students studying at institutions in England, it is also important to consider that Wales is a net importer of students from other parts of the UK.
“Institutions in Wales receive far more fee income from those students than we pay in fee grant to English institutions.
“It is time to stop questioning the sustainability or impact of the policy, and divert our energies on getting the right messages to students to encourage them to study at our institutions.”