Welsh parties outline student support policies

Welsh political parties have outlined their proposals for student support in time for the upcoming Assembly election in May. Currently, the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay subsidy every Welsh students’ tuition fee, ensuring no Welsh student pays more than £3,810 wherever they choose to study.

Labour have not committed themselves to a policy after the election, with Carwyn Jones telling Gair Rhydd in the autumn that the party will wait to see what the Diamond review recommends. The review is looking into student support, and will report back later this year, after the election, but has already said the current policy is unsustainable.

Despite this, current Education Minister Huw Lewis told the BBC that his party is committed to the principle that students would receive support wherever they decide to study. However, refused to say if the current policy would be available as it is now to all Welsh students, suggesting a means-tested tuition fee policy could be possible.

Plaid Cymru are proposing a shake up to the current blanket tuition fee grant system, wanting to only reward Welsh students that return to Wales to study. Their Shadow Education Minister Simon Thomas said: “Plaid Cymru will pay off £6,000 of the tuition fee loans for each student from Wales that returns to Wales to work after graduation.”

“Our plans will enable students from Wales to study anywhere they want, and will ensure that the Welsh economy can benefit from the talent of Welsh students. Under Plaid Cymru’s plans, students from Wales who study a three-year degree will have £18,000 of their loans written off.”

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies believes a different approach is needed, saying: “Higher Education funding in Wales needs a radical shake-up – and Welsh Conservatives are the only Party proposing a radical new approach which offers students the support they need with potentially prohibitive living costs.” The party announced that they would end the tuition fee grant, and instead offer students up to 50 per cent rebate of their rental costs during term time.

The average cost of rent paid per week by Welsh students is £118, meaning an average student could save up to £59 per week. Welsh students choosing to study in England or elsewhere in the UK would also benefit, at a cost of approximately £75 million per year, less than the current system’s over £200 million cost. However, many have criticised this policy saying it would only drive up the price of rent in student areas, with landlords benefitting most.

Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrats education spokesperson, also believes students should receive more support with living costs. Their policy would be to increase tuition fees, but use the savings to provide more maintenance grants to Welsh students and Welsh universities.

The Welsh Assembly elections will take place on Thursday May 5th, but students need to ensure they register to vote before April 16th to take part.