English students may not know this, but Welsh students have it pretty good - whilst most English students are paying £9,000 to go to university, students from Wales only have to pay the first £3,500 of tuition fees, and the Welsh government picks up the rest - regardless of where they study.
However, this effectively means that each Welsh student costs the government £5,500, and this deficit could cause universities in Wales to fall behind those in the rest of the UK unless the funding system changes. The chief executive of HEFCW (Higher Education Funding Council for Wales), Dr. David Blaney, warned that Welsh universities may not be on a level playing field with their English counterparts because there is simply less money available to invest in Welsh colleges.
The amount 'leaving' Wales to English universities this academic year is about £90 million, exceeding the original estimate of £77 million by 14%. Furthermore, the current system relies on more students from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland coming to Wales rather than vice versa - and this sadly isn't the case. The number of Welsh students in England has increased from 6,460 in 2011 to 8,090 in 2014; yet the number of English students in Wales has actually decreased from 11,425 to 10,680 in those three years. Although Wales is still a net importer of students (more are coming in than going out), the gap is narrowing, and therefore the debt is growing.
A Welsh government spokesman argued that its funding protected Welsh students after the UK government decided to raise tuition fees in England. He argued that 'we have been very clear that our tuition fee policy is an investment in the young person and that the choice of institution and course should be driven by individual circumstances not by the cost of fees.' An admirable sentiment, but others are starting to worry about the true cost of cushioning the blow for undergraduates.
Furthermore, the spokesman insisted that 'latest statistics show that in 2015-16 £48 million more funding will come into the Welsh system than will go out in tuition fee grants to institutions outside Wales. In addition to this, the number of students attending Welsh higher education institutions is increasing, and the level of debt for Welsh students is considerably lower than their counterparts in England.' Therefore we may have won the rugby, but Wales are still winning the long-term game.