Page last updated at 08:04 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Plaid leader defends fees plans

Students at degree ceremony
The assembly government has decided to abolish its student fees subsidy

Plaid Cymru's leader claims his position has been "enhanced" over the issue of student top-up fees, despite criticism from his party.

Ieuan Wyn Jones said opponents of plans to scrap a grant which covers the cost of student top-up fees had to "take responsibility for their own actions".

Plaid MP Adam Price called the plans a "breach" of the spirit of the coalition agreement between Labour and his party.

But Mr Jones said he believed the plans were "within the spirit" of the deal.

Currently, Welsh students studying in Wales receive a subsidy of around 2,000 towards the costs of their tuition, rather than paying the full fee of up to 3,225.

Ieuan Wyn Jones
The mark of leadership is being prepared to take difficult decisions, being prepared to argue your corner
Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid Cymru leader

Plaid fought the 2007 assembly election promising it would not make students pay the extra, often referred to as top-up fees.

Plaid Cymru's national council reaffirmed its opposition to top-up fees last month and defeated a motion proposed by the party's leadership to review the policy.

Mr Jones, who is also deputy first minister, told members he would not be able to convince the assembly government cabinet, which has a Labour majority, to match Plaid's position.

In his first interview on the subject he told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye he was not "forced" to surrender the policy by his Labour colleagues.

"We argued very hard indeed as you would expect for the package to be an enhanced package of student support," he said.

"We wanted to ensure that student debt was properly addressed.

"As a result I think of what we said, that will happen."

Adam Price MP
MP Adam Price had threatened legal action over the issue of top-up fees

It emerged on Wednesday that Mr Price had written to Education Minister Jane Hutt, calling for cabinet discussion on the matter to be "reopened".

Mr Price said the cabinet's decision to abolish the student subsidy, or tuition fee grant, was based on "highly misleading evidence".

However, Mr Jones said he was satisfied they had "done the best they could do in the circumstances".

"There will be occasions with people disagreeing with what you do," he said.

"There will be occasions when some people may well feel very disappointed.

"The mark of leadership is being prepared to take difficult decisions, being prepared to argue your corner, being prepared to make sure that student debt is properly addressed within the government."

BBC Wales political editor Betsan Powys said she doubted that Mr Jones had emerged stronger from the fallout.

"I don't see how this week can possibly have enhanced his party's position nor its leader's position either," she said.

"What Adam Price has done here is to put the focus right back on this being a decision taken in Cardiff by a Welsh government and of course his own party and that isn't helpful to them in the long run."

A consultation on the proposals, which would also see more money go directly to universities and an increase in means-tested grants, ended last month.

Ms Hutt is expected to make a statement on its outcome before Easter.

SEE ALSO
Price attacks student fees plans
04 Mar 09 |  Wales politics
Q&A: Student fees
16 Feb 09 |  Education
UK universities' fortunes diverge
05 Dec 08 |  Education
Students' loans bill tops 1.8bn
21 Aug 07 |  Scotland
Fees 'fail to benefit students'
25 Jul 07 |  Education
Student funding 'misses poorest'
22 Jul 07 |  Education
Third of students to live at home
18 Jul 07 |  Education
Fees seem not to deter students
25 Apr 07 |  Education
Working class students 'to fall'
21 Mar 06 |  Education

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