The National Union of Students in Wales launched its manifesto last month for the upcoming National Assembly for Wales elections in May. The manifesto, “Better education. Better society”, calls on the next Welsh Government to introduce policies to address issues affecting students, from living costs and tuition fees to housing and mental health. Further and higher education are the responsibility of the Welsh Government due to devolution. NUS Wales will be hoping to shape the debate around these areas in advance of the election campaign.
In their manifesto NUS Wales notes that over half of all students in Wales worry about meeting basic living costs, leading to the union calling on the next Welsh Government to protect and increase the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the Welsh Government Learning Grant. Regarding tuition fees, NUS Wales calls for the present system for Welsh domiciled students to be maintained, arguing the Welsh Government grant which has protected Welsh domiciled students from the increase in tuition fees since 2012 enjoys wide public support. The manifesto also says the incoming loan system for postgraduate taught students in England should be replicated in Wales.
The manifesto asks for continued financial support for Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol because of its work to enable Welsh medium education in universities. They also demand continued support for the Disabled Students Allowance in light of cuts to the support for students with access needs in England.
Turning to housing, NUS Wales says a significant number of students suffer substandard rented accommodation while at university. The union calls for an end to unfair charges on tenants such as letting agency fees and for additional funding for councils to increase inspections of rented accommodation to ensure standards are being met by landlords.
Insisting that all students should have access to the services they require to thrive, NUS Wales also says the Welsh Government should look into opening a Gender Identity Clinic in Wales to ensure fair access to health services for trans people and to review the provision of mental health support in areas of Wales with a high student population. The union also calls for a review into sexist lad culture on university campuses and for stronger measures to tackle it.
Whether to retain the current tuition fee system in Wales is already shaping up to be a central issue of the Assembly election campaign. Universities Wales, a group representing Welsh universities, has proposed that the system introduced by the current Labour Welsh Government should be replaced by means tested grants as a more affordable alternative. This proposal puts Vice Chancellors at odds with NUS Wales and Cardiff University Students Union who said any such move would make university less accessible to students. The ongoing Diamond review into higher education funding and student finance in Wales is due to report in September and is likely to inform future policy in this area.
Voters will go to the polls to elect a new Welsh Assembly on May 5th.