Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Changing the arguments


There is no doubt that the decision by the Welsh Government to abolish the Tuition Fee Grant from September this year was one of the most problematic issues for Plaid since entering the One Wales coalition.  It led to a number of difficult discussions at the time, but coalition sometimes means having to accept decisions by ministers of the other party with which you strongly disagree.
By comparison, the decision announced yesterday by Leighton Andrews that Welsh students will not have to pay the increases faced by English students is an extremely welcome one.  With fees likely to rise from £3290 to up to £9000, the decision that the Welsh Government will pay the difference of up to £5710 is, I think, absolutely the right decision.  Ensuring that we have a well-educated population, and that all of our young people are enabled to receive the best education that they can get, are some of the key things that we can do to build our collective future.
It also highlights the difference which devolved power can make in enabling Wales to follow a different path where that is the best thing for our nation.
There are one or two nagging little questions in the back of my mind, though, given what looks like a major turnaround from the arguments used when the previous grant was abolished.  I have an instinctive aversion to inconsistency, whether by friends or opponents, and I like to understand what has changed.
In abolishing the tuition fee grant, the then minister Jane Hutt, said that paying £1890 per student per annum was neither affordable nor a good use of funds in what were described at the time as challenging economic circumstances.  Her replacement, Leighton Andrews, now seems to be saying that paying up to £5710 per student per annum is both affordable and a good use of funds, although the economic circumstances are, if anything, rather more challenging.
Similarly, the fact that the Welsh Government had to pay the same level of grant for EU nationals studying in Wales was presented as a problem two years ago.  Now it is dismissed as not being a problem because of reciprocity – Welsh students studying elsewhere in the EU benefit from the ‘local’ rules.
I suppose that it could just be down to having a more enlightened Education Minister, but I find it hard to escape the conclusion that the General Election in May this year just might have been the factor which has led to Labour’s change of heart.  A reluctance to take a different view from a Labour Government in London appears to have been replaced by a certain amount of delight in taking a different view from a Conservative-led Government.
Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome turnaround, and good news for Welsh students and their families.

4 comments:

Siônnyn said...

Judging by the reaction of the London papers today - and especially the reader's comments that accompany them - this has come a a big shock and very unwelcome lesson in the realities of devolution to a large part of their readership!

Unwelcome to them, that is! It is about time that they realise that they have a right wing government who are committed to punish the weak, while we have a leftish government, with different priorities!

It is also good to see labour recognising the advantage of having distinctly Welsh policies. At last - some real clear RED water!

Anonymous said...

It's welcome JOhn you're right. But I can't help thinking that by extending this facility to students from Wales studying anywhere in the UK then WAG is continuing the braind-drain from Wales.

How many people who leave Wales to study in England return?

I don't wish to stop people studying outside Wales and know there are some courses which may be better in other colleges etc. But the Welsh state has made a massive investment in our young people - an investment which is financial, academic and in the transfer of the Welsh language, linguistic. With 40%+ of young people going to University that means a huge number, some 6,000 leave Wales every year I believe, many never to return.

The argument that there aren't any jobs in Wales doesn't always hold water either as many of these ex-students are occupied in jobs of which Wales has plenty - health, education, services, arts etc.

What's the loss to the Welsh language?

So, it's two steps forwads one step bach.

Macsen

Jeff said...

Or because we mobilised on the streets this time round and scared various governments. Never underestimate people power ;)
Also shows the Assembly being much more responsive to the Welsh people than Westminster have ever been :)

John Dixon said...

Siônnyn,

Not sure that I'd go as far as describing it as 'clear red water'. If they wanted to be really and radically different, they could have agreed to pay up to £9,000 pa per student instead of £5710 - and thus effectively abolish fees in Wales...

Macsen,

The point you make is a good one, but I don't believe that the Welsh Government have the power to restrict their support only to Welsh students attending Welsh Universities - and they won't have that power after the next referendum either. I'm also not entirely convinced that it would be a good thing if they did. There are disadvantages as well as advantages in such an approach.

Jeff,

Wouldn't want to underestimate people power - but wouldn't want to over-estimate it either!