Welsh Government Response To Student Finance Questions

by Beth Cherryman

I contacted Leighton Andrews, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, with a few questions on how they were subsidising higher education.  This is what they said:

Dear Beth,

Many thanks for your questions to the Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews.

Please find your questions with answers below. I hope this is of help to you.

1. Why is the Welsh Government continuing to subsidise higher education?

The Welsh Government will be providing £3.6 billion to support students during the lifetime of this Assembly, in addition to the funding it will continue to provide to universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.  The Government believes that higher education represents a public good – one which benefits both the individual and society.

We believe it’s imperative that we stick up for our students and help them wherever we can and that’s why we’ve put in place the most equitable student finance system we’ve ever created.

We have a responsibility to Welsh-domiciled students, wherever they choose to study. We are preserving the principle that the state should subsidise higher education and maintain opportunities for all.

2.  Could you clarify for me how far this subsidy extends. Are Welsh students at English universities included? Are English students at Welsh universities included?

The Welsh Government will implement the pledge that no full-time undergraduate student ordinarily resident in Wales will pay higher fees in real terms during the lifetime of this Government than if they had been students in 2010/11. This will apply no matter where the student chooses to study, in Wales or elsewhere in the UK. Therefore the following tuition fee support will be available to Welsh domiciled students whether they study in Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland:

  • A non means tested tuition fee loan of £3,465
  • A non repayable, non means tested grant of up to £5,535 (if fee is £9,000) to cover the remaining balance of tuition fee charged.

The Welsh Government is not responsible for providing tuition fee support to students ordinarily resident in other parts of the UK.

3. Have you met with any criticism from the House of Commons for proposing the policy?

Higher education is a devolved matter.  Control of fees charged to students by higher education institutions in Wales and associated student supportarrangements for students ordinarily resident in Wales are the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

4. In your opinion how much should higher education cost the student?

The Welsh Government will provide additional tuition fee support to students ordinarily resident in Wales from 2012/2013. This means that students will be able to apply for a tuition fee grant to cover any fee above £3,465.

We do not support full-cost or near full cost fees for higher education. We also do not believe that higher education should be organised on the basis of a market.

5. Should all degrees cost the same?

The fees charged for a particular degree are a matter for individual institutions, within the fee limits prescribed in regulations by the Welsh Government.

6. In the last couple of days it was announced that some universities were lowering their tuition fees to attract more students. Do you think this is testament to high fees restricting access?

The recent announcements have been made by institutions in England in response to the UK Government’s arrangements for controls on student numbers.

7. What do you make of the argument that high fees will not impact on a student’s decision to go into higher education because fees are not paid up-front?

The Education Minister’s message to students thinking about going on to higher education is if you normally live in Wales and you are going to university next academic year you will be no worse off than if you had gone to university this year.

8. Do you think the opportunity cost of going to university is too high now, or are we still living in a world where the graduate premium counts

As important as the quality of the learning experience is to students, so too are the opportunities that higher education opens up later in life. In For our Future,we said that graduate employability is a key outcome of the higher education experience. This is an area where Wales has a good record. Even in a tough labour market, around three-quarters of people qualifying from Welsh HE institutions last year were working six months after graduation, and only six per cent were assumed to be unemployed.

A university education is still a worthwhile investment. Research shows that on average graduates still earn more than their peers, and are still more likely to be in employment.

9. What are your recommendations for prospective students? Where should they be applying, what should they study, or perhaps they should only apply if they can get into a ‘good’ institution and earn a marketable degree?

It’s important that students who want to go on to higher education are well informed about the options available to them as well as what financial support is on offer for them to access.

We’re currently providing all schools and colleges in Wales with a package of information to share with potential students. We would actively encourage teachers to engage with learners to make sure they have all of the information they need to make informed decisions.

We would encourage all prospective students to visit the Student Finance Wales website www.studentfinancewales.co.uk   A quick guide to support available to new full-time Welsh HE students in 2012/13 is available via the headline banner. A Student Finance Wales Information Notice providing more information about support for 12/13 will be placed on the website shortly.

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