Sunday, October 9, 2011


Yesterday evening, I received a phonecall from a good friend asking me if I had read the Sunday Times that day.

I hadn't and so he directed me to a story which, if true, could have serious implications for one of the Welsh Government's flagship policies.

Unfortunately, due to the Sunday Times' web policy, I cannot provide the necessary link to the story (which may be why no-one seems to have picked up the article in the Welsh press).

Essentially, the story suggests that the Welsh Government will have to pay the difference in fees for thousands of EU students wishing to study at English.

According to the Sunday Times, "The loophole allows Europeans to exploit a decision by the Welsh government to pay any fees above £3,465 for students from Wales who attend courses in England from next year".

It would seem that under EU laws, Wales is not permitted to offer a better deal to its own students than it offers to those of any EU state outside Britain.

This potential problem had been picked up by the Scottish Government which, like Wales, had considered paying fees for its students to study at universities in England. However, as a source quoted in the newspaper noted:

“Our legal advice was that if we were to start paying for students from Scotland to study in England that would be considered a breach of EU law unless we paid for other EU students as well.”

The suggestion therefore is that tens of thousands of EU students could demand that the Welsh Government pays the difference in fees (around £5.5k per annum) for them to study at all English Universities. For example, this would give some EU students a £16k scholarship to study at institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial, three of the top ten universities in the World.

It sounds an incredible turn of events and I cannot believe this could happen. Of course, one can only assume that the legal implications of the policy must have been throughly considered by Welsh Government officials and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales over the last 12 months since its announcement. It is also worth finding out the view in Scotland and I will ask a few friends with links to the Scottish Government to try and discover more later today.

Nevertheless, the story does seem credible and with changes to fees being implemented in less than a year's time, clarification is needed quickly from the Welsh Government over this issue as Welsh students will already be considering where they will be studying, with a significant number already having chosen universities in England.