Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Welsh top-up fees grant scrapped

Students at degree ceremony
The assembly government is to bring in higher means-tested grants

A grant which off-sets the cost of student top-up fees in Wales will be phased out from September 2010.

Education Minister Jane Hutt said more help would be offered to students from lower income backgrounds.

At the moment students from Wales studying in Wales receive a grant of £1,940 regardless of their background.

Conservatives said they wanted assurances the ending of the tuition fee grant would not be a "barrier to students fulfilling their potential".

Ms Hutt said the plans meant more students would be able to access higher education and there would be a "level playing field for all Welsh students, wherever they study".

Ms Hutt told Welsh Assembly Members that £44m would be redirected towards increasing the assembly learning grant, a means-tested grant to help students' with their living costs, from £2,906 to £5,000.

Most people in this room have had free education and I think it's very hypocritical for you now to be saying that something should be made different
Bethan Jenkins, Plaid Cymru AM, to Education Minister Jane Hutt

Ms Hutt, a Labour minister in the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition assembly government, said the family income threshold would rise by £10,000 to ensure that Welsh undergraduates were not worse off than those in England.

She also announced plans to write off student loan debts of up to £1,500 from 2010 along with a scheme to encourage graduates to work in Wales.

Ms Hutt said that by 2015 higher education institutions in Wales would be receiving an extra £31m a year, including funding for bursaries and scholarships.

Current students will continue to be entitled to the tuition fee grant until they finish their studies.

'Hypocritical'

The student finance issue has been a sensitive one for Plaid.

Its national council voted last month to reaffirm its opposition to student top-up fees and the party's MP Adam Price has argued that scrapping the tuition fee grants could be illegal.

Directing her displeasure at Ms Hutt, Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins said she was "deeply disappointed that the government of Wales, under your watch, has turned its back on one of the most distinctive policies since its inception".

Ms Jenkins accused the assembly government of being "intent on forcing students to incur more and more debt as a result of abolishing the current fee grant structure".

Turning to the rest of the chamber, she said: "Most people in this room have had free education and I think it's very hypocritical for you now to be saying that something should be made different".

'Debt generation'

Conservatives urged the assembly government to put higher education "on a firm financial footing".

Tory education spokesman Paul Davies accused Welsh minsters of failing to fund higher education properly "for far too long... allowing a significant funding gap to grow between Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom".

"We are concerned that unless addressed urgently money could become a barrier to learning in Wales," he said.

"Following today's statement questions also remain about expanding access to part-time learning and whether enough money is being set aside for the student debt right-off scheme," Mr Davies added.

Liberal Democrat Jenny Randerson calculated that "funding for students to get to university is being slashed by approximately 40%".

"Labour's debt generation has just become Labour and Plaid's debt generation," she said.

"There are some measures that are welcome, but as a whole, the Welsh Lib Dems cannot support this package, which sees top-up fees arrive in Wales."



SEE ALSO
Student top-up fees split Plaid
22 Feb 09 |  Wales
Welsh student grant shake-up plan
25 Nov 08 |  Wales
Student fees shake-up is proposed
08 Oct 08 |  Wales
Q&A: Student fees
09 Jul 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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