If we are to maintain access opportunities, continue high standards of provision and ensure the quality of the learner experience it is imperative that we put in place measures to manage the numbers of full-time undergraduates in Wales.
Limits, or caps, on student numbers are already in operation in the other three UK nations and I’ve recently announced new measures to manage undergraduate student numbers which will bring Wales in line with the rest of the UK.
Our institutions in Wales have amongst the highest student satisfaction ratings in the whole of the United Kingdom, but it is in no-one's interest if universities recruit beyond their capacity.
The pressure on our student finance budget has been increasing in recent years. Every new full-time undergraduate student recruited by HE institutions from 2010/11 will increase the demand on student finance budgets by around £9,500 a year in grants and loans.
We need to manage Student Finance expenditure in a way which is sustainable and which is not jeopardised by unplanned growth in student numbers.
Earlier this year in my Remit Letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales I asked the Council to take steps to ensure that higher education institutions minimise recruitment of students beyond agreed numbers.
As a result, the Funding Council signalled to institutions that there are demands on the Assembly Government's Student Support budget if institutions enrol students over and above the number of funded places.
Prior to this, the Funding Council has advised institutions annually of the need for prudence when recruiting students. So, institutions are fully aware of the situation, and the need for constraint at a time when public funding is tight should not come as a surprise.
We are now discussing with HEFCW the mechanics of introducing a limit on student numbers by 2011/12 and the Funding Council will consult with HE institutions on the arrangements to be put in place.
It is important to say at this stage the cap will not affect part-time or postgraduate students and I expect institutions to adapt their provision in line with the priorities set out in For Our Future.
Even though we are looking to cap numbers of students in Wales we have not reduced funding to universities. It is worth noting the extent of investment in the higher education sector in Wales. In 2010-11, the Welsh Assembly Government will make available capital and revenue funding of approximately £450m to higher education institutions via the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
In addition to this, approximately £388m will be provided via Student Finance. Overall, Welsh Assembly Government funding for higher education via the Higher Education Funding Council has increased from around £335m in 2002-03 to approximately £450m in 2010-11.
A comprehensive package of statutory student support is also in place to help Welsh students enter higher education. I believe that new arrangements put in place for 2010/11 by the Welsh Assembly Government are the most equitable and fairest ever made available.
As I’ve said previously, our higher Education system in Wales must be better placed to compete internationally, driving forward economic renewal and delivering social justice.
Managing student numbers alongside delivering the key components of our overarching framework for our Higher Education strategy For Our Future will help us ensure we have a vibrant and sustainable higher education system in Wales.