Monday, 7 November 2011

Who are these people?

There was a story about a month ago claiming that there was a possible loophole in the Welsh Government’s policy on paying tuition fees.  The nub of the issue was that different lawyers appeared to be giving different advice (as lawyers are wont to do) about the law in this area, with some claiming that the Welsh Government could find itself open to paying fees for all EU students studying in the UK.
I still suspect, as I noted at the time, that this is one of those situations where only a test case will prove who is right and who is wrong; but I couldn’t see how anyone’s interest would be served by bringing such a test case.
I still don’t see whose interest would be served, but it looks as though we may be moving to a position where a test case becomes a possibility.  According to the Western Mail this morning, a “think-tank” which I’d never heard of before has decided to actively encourage EU students in England to apply to the Welsh Government for funding.
The “think-tank” concerned has a single-page web presence here, which actually tells us very little about them.  The banner at the top, showing a combination of the union flag and the stars and stripes makes me wonder what the nature of the US connection is, but there is little hard information to be had.  The Western Mail tells us that their spokesman is England-based – do they have any connection with Wales at all?
The key question, surely, is what the motivation is behind this intervention in Welsh politics.  It’s a question which the Western Mail seems not to have even asked. 
Their web page says that they want to expose the “stupidity and inequity” of the policy being pursued by “the Welsh Assembly” (sic – do they not understand the difference between the Assembly and the Government, and what does that say about their knowledge?).  But who would pay for them to do this, and if they’re not being paid for it, why would they divert time and effort into something which is more political campaign than policy research and development?
It’s an odd thing for a “think-tank” to do; and the report in the paper raised more questions than answers in my mind. 
I wasn’t particularly surprised at the Tories jumping on the bandwagon to criticise the policy yet again, although I still don’t understand why they think such a stance holds any political advantage for them.  Supporting an organisation based elsewhere in an attempt to undermine a popular policy doesn’t look like good politics to me.


Unknown said...

Most EU students would pay far less than the 3000 subsidised amount in their own domestic universities, so why would they bother?

Gwilym said...

You were right to comment on the reference to “the Welsh Assembly” and people who don't understand the difference between the Assembly and the Government. I'm afraid that inability to distinguish between the two is widespread here in north Wales, even among those aware that there is an Assembly. It will take a few decades for the Assembly to bed in and for its Government to be known as such.

Glyndo said...

Just sent them an e-mail, asking them who they are.

Pads said...

The WM should have written this up as "shadowy organisation try to undermine policy of help Welsh students with their fees"

Boncath said...


This all has a nasty smell about it

Verdict first evidence later springs to mind

I note that Angela Burns appears as Shadow Education Minister in the article.

Am I wrong in thinking that solitary MP such as the late Sreaming Lord Sutch if elected would be able to claim the title of Shadow Education Minister, Shadow Foreign Secretary, Shadow anything etc or am I being delusional

Whilst on the same subject who is Buckingham and did his money affect the outcome of elections
in West Wales and can the Conservative Party in Wales prove that it did not

Glyndo said...

Response received -

Now I understand what you are referring to I can give you some background to the project, although it has nothing whatsoever to do with devolution. Indeed your anger appears to be misdirected. We are attempting to protect the interests of all UK tax payers (including those in Wales) from what we believe to be illegal activity by your government.

Morally, it has to be wrong that students in England have to pay £9,000 whilst students in Wales pay £3,000 and students in Scotland pay nothing. That isn't the point. That is the right of the devolved authorities and we would not interfere in their right to self determination.

The issue is that the Welsh Assembly (WA) are funding students who choose to study anywhere in the UK. The Scottish Assembly (SA) also started out with that policy, but have since taken legal advice and as a result of that opinion, changed their policy so that only students studying in Scotland will be funded. The WA have not followed this route.

Let me give you an example to illustrate the point. As a parent, you make various decisions for your kids; what they eat; when they go to bed etc. When your child goes to university to "devolve" some of that power to them. They get to decide if they dine in the best restaurants or grab a burger in McDs. However, as a responsible parent, if you discover that your child is running up large debts, debts which you will ultimately have to "bail them out of", you seek to intervene.

We believe that the WA policy leaves them open to paying the tuition fees of all EU students studying in the UK. If we are right, it is you and every other UK tax payer that will be responsible for that bill.

We don't want that situation to occur, and there are two easy solutions:

1. The WA could bring their policy in line with the SA to reduce the potential breach of EU/UK law

2. They could publish the legal opinion that says that they are acting within the law. If they have one, and assuming that it comes from a large reputable firm, even if we are correct and there is any liability it would be covered by the law firm's indemnity insurance.

We're not the bad guys here, we're just trying to stop a governing body from running up more huge debts which the people will have to cover - and if you don't think that will happen look at Ireland. That isn't even part of the Union and we had to bail them out. Consider Greece, whatever weasel words you might hear, the UK people WILL be funding Greece through additional guarantees given to the IMF.

If this is an area of interest to you, try contacting your MP. Notwithstanding the EU law, The Equality Act 2010 prevents unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race, including national origin. That means that EU (including English & Scottish ones) could have a claim under UK law.

Tim Castleford

I.G. Huws said...


From the response it sounds like a Tax-Payers-Alliance type of outfit who clearly do not understand devolution.
As for their 'argument' - it's full of inaccuracies and despite the protestations to the contrary has a nasty anti-devolution tone. I think this fragment from the reply you had kinda says it all about who these people are: "Morally, it has to be wrong that students in England have to pay £9,000 whilst students in Wales pay £3,000 and students in Scotland pay nothing."

WA - huh? student fees policy is a Welsh Government policy (as John has correctly pointed out), not quite sure what the institution has to do with it?

What on earth is the 'Scottish Assembly (SA)'?

"We believe that the WA policy leaves them open to paying the tuition fees of all EU students studying in the UK. " Surely that is a matter for the Welsh Government, do we see for example Belgium interfering with such policies in the Germany?

Load of nonsense!

John Dixon said...


Thanks for that extra research. It makes me wonder even more about what sort of outfit this is. As IG Huws points out, referring to the 'Scottish Assembly' suggests a more serious lack of knowledge than their previous reference to this as a policy of the 'Welsh Assembly'; one would expect any serious 'think-tank' to be more accurate in their use of nomenclature.

The comparison of the relationship between the UK Government and the devolved administrations as being a sort of 'parent-child' relationship is also revealing of an underlying attitude.

For our 'national newspaper' to have given serious credibility to both the organisation and what they said without apparently making any attempt to dig a little deeper merely underlines the problem we have with the paucity of the Welsh media.

Unknown said...

This is a conspiracy against Wales. They are trying to undermine the democratic decision of the previous majority Welsh Government. They do not have the interests of students in mind- they want the policy to fail. The media coverage of this should have been far more critical of what looks like a sloppy, amateur Anglo-American body.

We have to also criticise the "Welsh" Conservatives for giving credence to this. They may be Tories but they should respect democracy and not use underhand tactics to try and undermine what has previously been voted on by our democratic representatives.

At worst, situations like this could eventually lead to all kinds of vested interests exploiting Wales' systemic weaknesses to try and change decisions they don't like. It has happened to other small democracies and there's no reason why shadowy groups won't try to do it in Wales.

Anonymous said...

Universities have to charge all EU students the same. But a local or regional administration can give bursaries to its inhabitants without having to give them to everyone in the EU. Single-market legislation does not apply to taxes which remain a national prerogative and surely allowances and subsidies to individuals (negative taxes) are the same. Isn't this just a muddle - or am I wrong?

John Dixon said...

You're probably right on that interpretation, Anon - and it's probably roughly what the Government's advisers said at the time.