Higher education cuts 'unsustainable', universities body says
Cuts to the funding allocated to Welsh universities are "not sustainable for the sector", the body representing higher education institutions has said.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) said its budget has been cut by 32%, while the Welsh government insists it is 16.3%.
Universities Wales said it would ask the Welsh government to "reconsider" the reduction.
The Welsh government said it had to take "tough decisions".
While an increase in education and skills funding was announced in Tuesday's draft budget, HEFCW said its core budget would be reduced from £129m this year to £87m next year.
But the Welsh government said about £21m of this is in fact being moved as part of a re-routing of the tuition fee grant - given to Welsh students to avoid them paying full fees - from HEFCW to the Student Loans Company.
This money, it said, would "be used for exactly the same purposes as it was last year".
Universities Wales, which represents the interest of Welsh institutions, said that, while the details still have to be examined, it was "seriously concerned" at first glance at the proposed cuts.
"Given these cuts are not sustainable for the sector, we will be asking the Welsh government to reconsider its position before the budget is confirmed next year," a spokesman said.
Universities Wales said it was the sixth successive year of major cuts to the higher education budget, with a reduction of £365m, or 81%, since 2010-11.
HEFCW spends its core budget on widening access to poorer students, helping those studying part-time, Welsh-medium courses, funding research and "topping-up" the cost of more expensive courses such as medicine and dentistry.
Its chief executive, Dr David Blaney, said: "Our investment decisions respond to an annual remit from the Welsh government.
"A reduction of 32% in our budget in one year will inevitably have considerable impact on these priority areas. The council will meet early in the new year to consider the implications of the budget settlement."
A Cardiff University spokesman said it was "too early to say" the potential consequences of the cuts outlined in the draft budget.
However, he said the university would be "very concerned" about any impact on its medical and dentistry programmes.
A Welsh government spokesman said: "We have had to make some tough decisions within this budget, including a £20m cut to HEFCW, and we recognise that this will present challenges.
"However, given that the overall income to the higher education sector, from private and public services is £1.3bn, this reduction is actually a relatively small one."