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Students’ Union takes stance against government policies

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Cardiff University Students’ Union has taken action to oppose two of the Conservative Government’s policies that will affect students of the University.

In separate statements, the Students’ Union denounced both the phasing out of the maintenance grant to be replaced by a maintenance loan, and the introduction of new restrictions on international students’ visas.

Representatives of the Students’ Union met with Labour’s Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens to discuss the government’s policites on both matters.

Gair Rhydd has spoken to both Ms. Stevens and Claire Blakeway, the President of Cardiff’s Students’ Union to assess which course of action each side plans to take on the government’s policies.

Blakeway explained the Union’s approach to Gair Rhydd, saying; “The Students’ Union has taken a stance against these measures as these changes negatively affect students.

“I feel that the removal of such grants creates even more barriers to students accessing higher education.

“The changes to international student visa’s de-values our international student population who in fact bring so much to our university and wider community.”

She encouraged students to make their voice heard via the Union: “The Students’ Union have several channels through which students can make sure their voices heard.

“Firstly, our local MP, Jo Stevens will be coming onto campus once a term over the next academic year. She will be basing herself out and about on campus with the Sabbatical Officer team as part of the officer engagement campaign, ‘Sabbs on the Sofa’, which will be launched in October. This campaign will also see local Councillors on campus on a regular base’s, providing a channel for students to voice their concerns about local issues.

“Aside from this, students have the opportunity to mobilise further action against national or local issues that may be affecting students through our Student Senate and Annual General Meeting.”

Blakeway also acknowledged her meeting with Labour MP Stevens last month: “The outcome of my meeting with Jo Stevens was incredibly positive as Jo also strongly opposes the cut to maintenance grants, restriction to international visas and excluding under 25s from the national minimum wage.

“It was incredibly encouraging to hear that Jo wants to represent the student voice on a national level. Jo was also incredibly supportive of the Students’ Union and is looking forward to working with students over the next year.”

New rules on international students’ visas

New proposals set out by the Home Secretary Theresa May will look to reform the visa system to reduce net migration. They include a requirement for international students to prove a higher level of financial backing as a condition for being allowed to study in the United Kingdom.

The plans would also make it harder for international students to stay in the United Kingdom upon the completion of their studies.

The Minister of State for Immigration, James Brokenshire, explained that the measures were being discussed as a way to “reduce net migration and tackle immigration abuse, whilst maintaining an excellent offer for students who wish to study at our world class universities”

In a statement, the Student’s Union said that the proposed changes were “prohibitive to the brightest and best and will have a negative impact on students who wish to remain to work and live in the UK after they have completed their degrees.”

On this issue, Blakeway said that she wanted to work closely with international students on this matter: “We will be working with the International Students Officer, The National Union of Students and students to campaign against these restrictions.

“We aim to be one united movement, that support and represent the needs of international students. International students also have access to advice services in the Students’ Union where they can gain further support.”

Speaking to Gair Rhydd, Jo Stevens described her opposition to the plans, saying: “We need the best researchers, best brains and best innovations coming to UK universities and the Government crackdown on student visas is preventing this happening.

“International students bring a huge benefit to Cardiff and to our University’s performance and standing.

“I’ve met local students who want to continue their studies in Cardiff but are finding it increasingly hard to extend their visas. The Government is taking a short-sighted and wrong approach.”

The phasing out of the maintenance grant

In a move condemned by both the National and Cardiff Students’ Unions, grants given to university students from lower income backgrounds will now be phased out, according to the Budget plans announced in July. Instead they will be replaced with loans that are repayable on earnings over £21,000, adding to the debts that are already accrued during university study.

In his speech, the Chancellor George Osborne said: “it is not acceptable that in an economy moving towards full employment some young people leave school and straight on to a life on benefits. So for those ages 18 to 21, we are introducing a new youth obligation that says they must earn or learn.”

This announcement also came as he revealed housing benefit would not be automatically available to this age group, nor the new national living wage of £7.20, which will only apply to those over 25.

According to the NUS, “the cut of such a vital grant would have a devastating impact on the ambitions and choices of lower income students, with increased concern for the cost of living and increased future debt”.

Cardiff University Students’ Union have published a statement via their website in response to the budget announcements. Claire Blakeway said, “Access to education should solely by based on an individual’s academic ability and willingness to learn, not on their financial backgrounds. This will make education totally inaccessible to large groups of students and in many cases discourage students even considering a university education. It is totally unfair for these students to suffer and come out of university with even more debts.”

On the subject of the phasing out of grants, Cardiff Central MP Ms. Stevens said: “We know that grants have widened access to university education. There are students studying in Cardiff who would not be here were it not for those grants. The Tory Government’s proposal to change grants to loans will narrow access to education and increase the already huge burden of debt placed on those who make it to university. That’s why I’m backing the NUS ‘cut the costs’ campaign.”

The NUS #CutTheCosts campaign was launched shortly after budget plans were revealed, and urges students to contact their local MP and push for a debate in Parliament about the issue, and collect case studies of students who will be particularly affected. They state, “We cannot allow George Osborne to write off the most vulnerable, let down the future talent of this country and price students out of higher education – which is why saving maintenance grants that support the poorest students is our utmost priority.”

Gair Rhydd did reach out to Cardiff North MP Craig Williams for comment on the government’s policies, but he was unavailable to comment before print deadline.