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EDITIONS
Monday, 10 June, 2002, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Grants return for Welsh students
Cardiff streets
Ministers want to see more students from poor areas
If the government is to achieve its ambition of getting half the nation's young people into university, more students from poor backgrounds must be persuaded to apply.

On Wednesday the Welsh Assembly will launch its own answer to that problem - a new system of grants for students from low income families.

The grants will be worth up to 1,500 a year for students in further and higher education - although about 750 is more likely.

English students are still awaiting the results of a government review of student finance.

Welsh solution

When the prime minister announced the review last year, expectations were raised that the government was preparing to bring back some sort of maintenance grant.

Numerous options are said to have been considered. The results are now six months overdue.

About 80% of the students in the UK's universities come from professional or managerial families. Only 17% are from lower socio-economic groups.

While English education ministers have dithered, their counterparts in Wales have come up with what they hope is a solution.

Jane Davidson:
Jane Davidson: Not prepared to squander talent
From September at least 50,000 Welsh students from poor families will benefit from a new grant.

It has been pushed through by the Assembly's Education Minister, Jane Davidson.

"When we tested what caused students to think again, the biggest factor was fear of debt," she said.

"We know that what we're introducing with the Assembly Learning Grant is an incentive to encourage young people to take that next step into going on in education."

At Fitzalan High School in a deprived area of Cardiff, sixth formers hoping to go onto higher education this autumn will be the first to benefit.

Richard Conway:
Richard Conway: It all helps
Heena Patel and Richard Conway both want to do engineering.

Heena said a grant would allow her to concentrate more on her course and have a more positive attitude.

Richard said it would help "a helluva lot".

"Seven or eight hundred pound may not be a lot but it helps ... because that's seven or eight hundred pound you don't have to pay off your loan when you get back out of university."

Debts

That is something that second year undergraduate James Knight would appreciate.

He reckons he owes about 8,500 already and will be up to 20,000 in debt by the time he graduates.

"I hate it," he said.

"I resent the fact that I should have to get in debt to have an education.

"They are always saying how there's a shortage of doctors and other professionals yet on the other hand they are saying that to be a doctor you have to get into debt.

"It's not exactly incentive learning."

Nursing ambition

Ian Jones is a builder by trade but now cares for his mother full time, so the family has to survive on benefits.

His daughter Haley wants to go to university to study nursing.

But they live in Kington in Herefordshire, three miles from the Welsh border - the wrong side when it comes to student support.

"It would help if the government made some sort of decision whether we do get extra financial help because otherwise I do think it's very unlikely I will be able to go to university as we haven't got the money to do so," said Haley.

"I don't want to end up working in a shop all my life - not that it's a bad thing but I would love to do nursing."

Hopes dashed

Her father said it was a shame when the country was crying out for nurses.

"I'd like to be in a position as I could say, well you can go, and that would be it - but I'm not.

"It is a great shame. She's very bright, her schooling's brilliant."

Haley's plight is a familiar one at her school, Lady Hawkins High in Kington. Wages in this part of Herefordshire are low.

When Labour came to power the head of sixth form, Jim Rogers, had high hopes for his more disadvantaged students.

"One of the changes that I hoped would have happened was that education would be opened up to more and more students from what we might call working class families," he said.

England expects

"Unfortunately this fear of debt is actually putting a lot of students off and that change is just not happening."

Often it affected some very bright students, he said.

It is expected that England's solution to the problem will be revealed finally next month, to coincide with the Chancellor's spending plans for the next three years.

Gordon Brown has already ruled out spending more on supporting students.

So if those from poorer backgrounds are to gain, the better off may have to pay more - either in fees, or in interest on loans.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"The principal of state support is back"
The BBC's Kim Catcheside
"Welsh ministers hope they have found a solution"
See also:

22 Apr 02 | UK Education
20 Feb 02 | UK Education
20 Feb 02 | UK Education
12 Feb 02 | Wales
31 Jan 02 | Health
24 May 02 | UK Education
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