New grant help for poorest students

Nicola Porter

Plans to attract more young people from working class families - particularly boys - into Welsh universities do not go far enough, unions said this week.

Jane Hutt, education minister, announced proposals to scrap a Pounds 1,890 tuition fee grant given to all domiciled and non-UK students from the EU studying in Wales, and redirect the savings to "those who most need it".

An eligible sixth former applying for a place at a Welsh university in 200910 can expect an annual Assembly learning grant of Pounds 5,000, boosted by student loans amounting to Pounds 11,000 under the plans. However, students from middle income homes will be means-tested.

Announcing the proposals to scrap the grant introduced in 2005 and costing Pounds 61 million annually, Ms Hutt told AMs she will also introduce Wales only legislation to provide students with debt relief.

But the National Union of Students said the proposed extra cash was not enough, especially with rising living costs and looming recession.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, also said the plans fall lamentably short.

"Many young people I have spoken to are put off university, while others limit their horizons to institutions within striking distance of home, he said.

"The Assembly government now needs a fundamental overhaul and evaluation, taking full account of the views and experiences of young people."

Consultation with schools and students will begin shortly.

This week's announcement follows the release of a report by an independent group assembled to probe student funding in HE by the government.

The panel, chaired by Professor Merfyn Jones, concluded the Tuition Fee Grant was failing to attract enough students form poorer homes into HE. They also said the grant was not sustainable in the long run.

Sixth formers currently applying for a place and undergraduates already on courses will not be affected by the plans.

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Nicola Porter

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