WELSH universities and colleges witnessed an astonishing 11% rise in students from Wales over the past year, according to the latest official figures released yesterday.
The rise, which comes amid a general decline in UK university admissions, has been attributed to Wales' resistance to top-up fees for homegrown students.
But student leaders last night expressed fears that top-up fees over the border could erode key elements of the university experience, such as gaining independence and seeing "other parts of the world".
The 2006 statistics, released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), show Welsh student admissions to English universities dropped by 14.1% - from 6,324 to 5,434 - over the previous year, while admissions to Scottish and Northern Irish universities dropped by 28.8% and 42.9% respectively.
A Ucas spokesman said, "There is an apparent relationship between these figures and the funding arrangements in place in Wales, with Welsh students choosing to remain in Wales to study, rather than other parts of the UK."
Throughout the whole of the UK the number of accepted applicants dropped by 3.6% from 405,369 to 390,890 last year.
The rising number of Welsh students accepted at Welsh universities, meanwhile, actually meant Wales' institutions bucked the trend with a 0.4% rise in accepted applicants.
A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said, "We want students of any nationality to consider Wales as a location of choice to pursue higher education.
"It's great news that Welsh student numbers are increasing, this shows that they believe Wales is an excellent place to study.
"These final figures confirm provisional data released in the autumn and point even more strongly to the fact that our Welsh students are responding to the robust student support arrangements the Assembly Government is putting in place by choosing to study here.
"Our students know that, even though our universities will be able to charge up to £3,070 in tuition fees from next year, Welsh-domiciled students won't pay any more, thanks to our fee remission grant."
Jo Roberts, NUS Wales women's officer, said, "The obvious explanation of these figures is that top-up fees have been introduced in universities in England.
"These figures illustrate that top-up fees deter students from applying to university and fly in the face of the Government's Widening Access agenda."
The organisation raised concerns about students losing out on a key facet of the student experience.
"If students are choosing the opportunity to go because they can afford it rather than because they have the ability they're losing that vital aspect of university experience which is seeing another part of the world," a spokesman added.
"Similarly, students are choosing to stay at home and losing that aspect of learning to fend for themselves."
Traditional subjects continued to dominate the list of most popular degree courses, with law, psychology, English and medicine all remaining in the top 10.
But less traditional degree choices, including dance and complementary medicine, were evident in a list of fastest-growing courses.
Geraldine Hurl, programme director of Uwic's Cardiff-based BA in dance, said the rise in popularity of the subject was largely down its increasing importance in school PE classes.
The course is the first of its kind in Wales and attracted 90 applicants last year.
She said it was not a "soft option" course, with an entry requirement of two Bs or equivalent at A-level, adding, "I would suggest that our students are, academically, rigorously tested in their ability. The experience they have lends itself to key skills they can transfer to any career."