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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Wales@Westminster weblog

It's Wales@Westminster weblog, BBC Wales' Parliamentary correspondent David Cornock's diary on political life.

Friday 24 June

Student politics

posted by David | 1250 BST |

Even in the world of Welsh politics, there is no such thing as a free lunch, despite this week's deal on student funding in Cardiff.

Welsh students will escape top-up fees if they attend universities in Wales. They'll pay 1,200 a year, rather than the 3,000 charged to students from outside Wales - and paid by Welsh students at English universities.

The deal was reached after negotiations between the main four parties in the Welsh assembly. It was voted through unanimously and declared "historic" by the education minister.

It fell to UK Cabinet ministers past and present to point out the drawbacks of the deal. At Westminster Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain warned that the new system could subsidise better-off students at the expense of services for the poorest in Wales. It could, he said, discriminate against students wanting to go to top universities in England.

The assembly cannot raise extra funds, which means the cost of the scheme - put by Mr Hain at 40m a year - will have to be taken from other parts of the assembly budget.

Mr Hain, who was responsible for giving the assembly responsibility for student finance, said: "They effectively want to provide extra subsidies to students who are better off and taking away money from vital services and initiatives designed to help the poor and most deprived in Wales.

"It is true that the decision reached in the assembly has given certainty to Welsh students and stability to Welsh universities but it is a result of the opposition coalition that produced that outcome that now Welsh-born and domiciled students will not be able to go Oxford and Cambridge and other top universities with the same fee support that is available to Welsh students going to Welsh universities."

His predecessor Paul Murphy, a miner's son who went to Oxford, warned that giving more money to universities at the expense of nursery and other schools could restrict the ability of people from poorer backgrounds to enjoy higher education.

P.S. A postscript to my item yesterday on David T.C. Davies, the Welsh Conservative MP known as Top Cat after using his middle initials to avoid confusion with David Davis, the man likely to succeed Michael Howard as Tory leader.

My colleague Rhys Evans points out that it could have been worse. He could have been named after one of Top Cat's friends - Spook, Benny the Ball, Choo Choo, The Brain, and Fancy-Fancy Officer Charlie Dibble. O-K TC!

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