Wales is the only nation of the UK to spend more on further education than higher education, new figures reveal.
In the first analysis of its type, the University and College Union (UCU) asked the Treasury to compare relative levels of public spending on FE and HE in the four nations.
In Wales, it found that spending on FE in 2012-13 was 30 per cent higher than on HE. But in England, for every pound;1 of public cash spent on FE, pound;1.25 was spent on HE. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the figures were significantly higher at pound;3.45 and pound;2.90 respectively, indicating that HE is more heavily prioritised than FE.
The UCU compared these findings with the level of qualifications held by people aged 16-64 in each of the countries. It found that England had the highest percentage of people with an undergraduate degree or above (26.1 per cent), followed by Scotland (24.4 per cent), Wales (21.5 per cent) and Northern Ireland (19.8 per cent).
Michael MacNeil, national head of bargaining and negotiations for the UCU, said this showed that higher spending on HE did not necessarily lead to higher levels of qualification.
"What this does highlight is the important role FE plays in widening participation and helping students access HE," he said. However, he added: "This report isn't proposing a rebalancing of funding, or robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need to look at the post-compulsory education sector as a whole."