University Funding Gap Targeted; HIGHER EDUCATION: Minister Announces Extra Pounds 6m to Attract World-Class Research

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Byline: CLIVE BETTS Assembly Editor

THE National Assembly Government gave way yesterday to demands for an increase in funding for Welsh universities and colleges to reduce the gap with England and Scotland.

Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson announced an extra pounds 6m to attract top researchers to Wales and increase the number of institutions hosting world-class research departments.

Ms Davidson was responding to concern that Wales is lagging badly and risks entering a downward-slide in competition with the rest of the world because its colleges are so small.

A major policy review from the Assembly's education committee on the future of the sector had demanded a major rise in funding for colleges, research and students.

Introducing the report to yesterday's plenary session, committee chairman Cynog Dafis complained about the funding gap per head that exists with England, and the gap of 27pc with Scotland. He said, "The funding should be as high in Wales as England, and the gap with Scotland should also be closed in time."

Ms Davidson immediately responded by offering pounds 6m extra for research staffing - on top of the current pounds 51m budget - in order to attract top professors and others.

Her department said later that she was offering a far larger increase than in England. A spokesman denied that the announcement was in response to the committee review. It had been in preparation for some time.

Ms Davidson told the plenary the extra money was in response to the fourfold increase in 5* grades attained in the latest universities' research assessment, and a near-doubling from 18 to 34 in the number of 5 grades.

"We are among the best in the UK in terms of access for students and excellence, " she said. …