AM's concerns over EU students' fees subsidy
QUESTIONS have been raised about the cost to Welsh taxpayers of subsidising students from countries like Lithuania and Portugal.
From next year, universities in Wales will charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, a whopping rise from the current £3,290.
It's not so bad for Welsh students, who will be shielded from this rise by the Assembly Government, which will pay the difference — even if the students choose to study in the rest of the UK. This will cost the Assembly an estimated £280million per year.
The fee rise is not so good for English students who want to study in Wales as they will have to pay full whack, although they would have to if they went to an English university there which charged the maximum.
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But, under European Union law, Wales cannot discriminate against students from member states.
Therefore, students from within the EU who are accepted at Welsh universities from 2012 will pay the same fees as Welsh students — roughly £3,400 — with the remaining chunk being subsidised by the Assembly.
Government officials are busy working out how much this is likely to cost taxpayers in the light of this week's news that eight out of 10 Welsh universities will charge the maximum £9,000 per year for some or all their courses. Initial Assembly estimates came up with a figure of £8.1million by 2015/16, but this was based on an assumption of £7,000 fees.
Angela Burns AM, Shadow Minister for Education, said: "Subsiding students from Wales and across the EU to the maximum fee of £9,000 represents an increasingly uncertain financial commitment for the public purse."
Plaid's education spokesman, Simon Thomas AM, claimed the new arrangements were a "high- risk strategy". He said: "The (education) Minister gave a personal commitment regarding the sustainability of this pledge and we have to question whether it is financially affordable."
Swansea University, which has 341 European Union students among its 15,944 total, has permission to charge £9,000 for courses, while Swansea Metropolitan University will charge £8,750 for art and design courses and £8,500 for all others.
The reason for the fee increases is Government cuts to university teaching grants. Universities in Wales must attract more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to justify the fee hikes.
Swansea University said it would build on its proud track record in attracting such students, adding that it had reached thousands of young people through summer schools and mentoring schemes.
The Assembly Government said Welsh students studying in the EU would get the same treatment as home students there.
Responsibility for higher education funding and planning lay with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, said an Assembly spokesman, who added: "Access to 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.
"As such, we believe the new system we're putting in place is the fairest and most equitable we've ever had."