The majority of AMs stood firm today in their opposition to university top-up fees, leaving the author of a key pro-fees report saying she was "astonished" at their stance.
Professor Teresa Rees' Assembly-commissioned report, published this morning, said Welsh universities should be allowed to charge the same £3,000-a-year top-up fees as English institutions.
The Assembly Government has ruled out top-up fees until 2007 - a year after they are introduced in England - but the review says they should be introduced after that date.
However, implementing the report will prove difficult following a vote against top-up fees in the Assembly on Tuesday. The Labour administration has no majority in Cardiff Bay, and will struggle to push through any plans for fees.
Professor Rees told PA: "The critical thing is that students don't pay fees any more. The fees are only going to be paid by graduates. I think it is a matter of presentation, and I am astonished by all the fuss about fees, when the real issue is about maintenance for students."
She added: "I wonder how many AMs know the fees are deferred?"
"I hope AMs will spend time looking at this complex issue and see that what we are trying to do is what they are trying to do."
But Tory Assembly leader Nick Bourne said: "This report is a whitewash. It contains precisely what we thought it would. It is the report Rhodri Morgan and Jane Davidson wanted, but not what the people of Wales wanted."
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Peter Black said the report "did not make any clear recommendations on the central question of funding", while Plaid Cymru's Janet Ryder said Labour should now come forward with proposals reflecting the Assembly's anti-fees stance.
Education Minister Jane Davidson said her door was "wide open" for talks with opposition parties on the issue, but they have demanded higher-level discussions with First Minister Rhodri Morgan.
Mr Morgan is today at the Wales TUC conference in Llandudno, and any talks would take place next week - recess in Cardiff Bay - at the earliest.
Professor Rees' report also recommends a Welsh National Bursary Scheme should be established to provide targeted assistance for students in higher education in Wales. She said she envisaged some level of grant being paid to each Welsh student, as an incentive for them to stay in Wales to study.