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Education

Review of higher education published

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Kirsty Williams: Endorses underlying principles

Kirsty Williams: Endorses underlying principles

IT IS THE BIGGEST shake up to financing higher education in Wales since the First Assembly term and yet, despite two years of research and the likely conclusions being flagged well in advance, the Welsh Government – which delayed changes to Welsh student finance until after May’s election – now claims that the changes recommended by the Diamond Review of higher education funding and finance might not be put in place until 2018, at the earliest. 

In the meantime, the fees that universities can charge to students have been frozen, creating an effective cut in higher education funding at the same time as the whole funding system for students is overhauled.

THE REVIEW 

The radical overhaul of the system in Wales has been put forward after an independent review led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond and a panel of experts.

It suggests a fundamental shift to a system that provides financial support for the daily living costs of students – both full and part time – through a mix of grants and loans. It would mean students receiving the equivalent of the National Living Wage during term time while they study.

The average Welsh student could receive £7,000 a year in grant support while they study, with a pro-rata version available to part-time students.

The maximum level of support available would be £9,113 a year for those studying full time.

Professor Diamond’s proposals aim to ensure all those who want to go to university are able to do so, while making the system more sustainable in the long term.

The panel recommends new, innovative ways of funding part-time students and a support package for post-graduate studies that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They also propose new ideas for supporting research and knowledge transfer; and a Welsh programme for research students.

But the delay in implementing the review’s recommendations means that potential Welsh postgraduate students wishing to pursue a course at Welsh universities will remain at a massive disadvantage to English students wishing to do the same. English students have been able to access funding for postgraduate study at Welsh universities since the start of the current academic year. Welsh postgraduate students are left high and dry with what looks like a significant watering down of the funding that English students can access.

The Review’s recommendations include: 

  • A new improved maintenance grant support system for undergraduate, post-graduate and part time students The highest level of grant support will go to those most in need
  • A £1,000 annual non-means-tested universal maintenance grant to be made available to all students alongside the additional means-tested grant to cover living costs. Part-time students to receive a modified version of this support on a pro-rata basis
  • The top rate of maintenance grant and/or loan support, for a student living away from home outside London, should be equivalent to the National Living Wage – based on 37.5 hours per week over a 30 week period, currently £8,100. A maximum total grant of 25% more (£10,125) to be available for a student living away from home in London and 15% less (£6,885) for students living at home
  • Maintenance support to be paid to students on a monthly basis to enable more efficient financial planning and budgeting

‘FUNDING SHOULD BE A PARTNERSHIP’ 

The Welsh Government claims that the recommended improvements to the overall student support package can only be achieved by releasing funds currently used to provide tuition fee grants to full-time undergraduates.

The tuition fee grant for full-time undergraduate students should be replaced with a student loan, up to a maximum fee level agreed with the Welsh Government. Repayments would only begin once graduates earn a salary above £21,000.

Professor Diamond said: “The funding of higher education should be a partnership between wider society and the individual. In contrast to England, where maintenance support for students will be based on loans, we propose a significant universal element of maintenance support for full-time students, meaning students from Wales will face a significantly lower average level of debt on leaving university than those from England.

“My proposals will support widening access and retention of students from all backgrounds, including those from poorer backgrounds, squeezed middle-income families and those either estranged from their parents or whose parents choose not to contribute to their higher education.”

WILLIAMS HAILS ‘PROGRESSIVE PLAN’ 

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said: “This report presents a progressive and sustainable plan for Higher Education in Wales.

“My Cabinet colleagues and I endorse the underlying principles in the report and we will now look into the detail of how we can implement these recommendations.

“We want to make sure that those who wish to go on to university are able to. The fear of not being able to meet the cost of living on a daily basis puts many off, not the prospect of paying back loans after they are in work. This system addresses that issue head on, but will also mean making tough decisions to make sure the system is sustainable in the long-term.

“The generous package of support proposed by the panel would mean Welsh students would benefit from the only UK system that is consistent, progressive and fair across all levels and modes of study.

“I am deeply committed to making sure access to higher education should be determined by academic ability and not social background.”

REVIEW WELCOMED 

Universities Wales welcomed the Review’s publication.

“Offering means-tested maintenance grants for Welsh students will give many more talented people the opportunity to transform their life-chances through going to university. There is a body of evidence that shows students need financial support whilst studying and so we are pleased to see the recommendation to provide this support.

“We hope that, as a result of the cross party support for the Review , we can build a consensus regarding the value of universities and their students to Wales and we look forward to working with Welsh Government to deliver their aim of early implementation of the recommendations.”

LIBDEMS ‘LISTENED TO’ 

Cadan ap Tomos, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Young People, said: “As someone who studied under the current system, it wasn’t help with tuition fees I needed – they didn’t need paying until after I’d graduated and was earning a decent salary. It was with living costs that I needed the most support – despite receiving more than most having come from a poorer family, I still had to work alongside my studies just to make ends meet.

“I’m proud that Welsh Lib Dems listened to students like me when coming up with our plan for student finance – and I’m proud that it’s Welsh Lib Dem Kirsty Williams who’ll be fighting within Government to secure these much-needed reforms for all students – rich or poor, full or parttime, undergrad or postgrad.

“It’s clear to everyone that the unsustainable system created by Labour and Plaid just can’t continue. The fact that both a cross-party panel and students across Wales are recommending our solution be put into action shows that it’s the Welsh Lib Dems who are fighting students’ corner.”

Mark Williams MP, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, added: “The Welsh Liberal Democrats have consistently made the case that the high cost of living is the number one barrier to people accessing university. I am pleased that the Diamond Review has today supported that view.

“I am in no doubt that these proposals put forward would offer Welsh students the most generous offer of support compared to anywhere in the UK. I welcome the fact that Kirsty Williams has today endorsed the principles of the review.”

REVIEW ADDRESSES NUS CONCERNS 

The recommendations of the Diamond Review address many of the concerns that NUS Wales has held for Welsh students and marks a move towards a funding system that addresses the particular need to widen access for Wales’ poorest students.

Fflur Elin, NUS Wales President, said: “We have long been concerned that many students struggle to meet the basic cost of living. It is a particular strain for those from backgrounds where there is little or no financial support from families.

“Of course, NUS Wales does not want to see students leaving university saddled with enormous student loans. However, the reality for Welsh students is that they have to take out overdrafts, credit cards and a small but significant amount of students pay day loans in order to pay for food, rent and bills. The immediacy of the repayment on these types of finance lead to stress and in some cases students giving up their courses.

“Wales is unlike the rest of the UK in many respects; it has some of the poorest communities in Northern Europe. For some, university isn’t an aspiration as meeting the cost of living without working full time seems impossible. We are sure that doing more to support people to get into university by helping with their immediate costs is a positive step forward.

“NUS Wales in addition would like to see better financial education. Research has told us that students, particularly

those from a low participation background, do not know what they are entitled to. With recommendations for a more generous maintenance package, more should be done to inform those who would otherwise see education as unaffordable.”

LOCAL AMS RESPOND 

Eluned Morgan and Joyce Watson have welcomed the Welsh Government’s plans for what they have described as ‘the most generous package of student support anywhere in the UK’.

Eluned Morgan AM said: “I am immensely proud that the package of support available to students in Carmarthenshire and Wales is the best available anywhere in the UK.

“This is yet another example of this Welsh Labour Government delivering on its promises. Supporting young people to further their education and helping those from the most disadvantaged communities in Wales benefit from a university degree.”

Joyce Watson AM explained, “Under the plans, support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be prioritised – the highest level of grant will be available to those most in need. Those with experience of care will automatically receive the maximum level of maintenance grant support.

“People studying part time will receive a similar level of financial support as full time students and post-graduate students will also be eligible for ongoing support under the new scheme. Students from Carmarthenshire will benefit from the only UK system that is consistent, progressive and fair across all levels and modes of study.”

OPPOSITION GIVE QUALIFIED WELCOME 

Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Education, Darren Millar AM, said: “I welcome the publication of the Diamond Review. We support the recommendations to move away from tuition fee support and towards a system of means-tested maintenance grants for students; this is something we advocated prior to the Assembly elections earlier this year.

“The Welsh Conservatives have always believed that support should be targeted at those who need it most to ensure that everyone can aspire to a university education, no matter what their background.

“It is essential that grants continue to be available to those who are already being supported under the current arrangements and that the transition to any new arrangements is fair and properly managed.”

Plaid Cymru’s Llyr Gruffydd said: “The Diamond Review has been much anticipated by universities, students and political parties. The Labour government’s current system is unsustainable and needs to be replaced. It was disingenuous of Labour to enter into the previous election on the promise that the policy would continue when it was clear that this could not happen.

“Plaid Cymru would expect that any new higher education funding system includes some way of retaining skills and attracting people back to Wales to work after they have graduated. This is a crucial aspect that is currently missing and , without it , the whole system of student support risks failing to serve the needs of the Welsh economy.

“And I would also expect that any savings made in the new system would be redirected back into our HE institutions, so that we can close the funding gap between Welsh universities and their English counterparts.”

APPROVAL FOR ‘BALANCED PACKAGE’ 

Dr David Blaney, Chief Executive of The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, said: “We welcome the Review. It clearly reflects a thorough, robust and evidence-based review process conducted by Professor Sir Ian Diamond and his all-party group. Sir Ian’s recommendations offer a balanced package which would see the distribution of available resources more evenly across the range of policy priorities, but with continuation of the principle that student support should be portable. They also respond to the concern which has been raised clearly and consistently by the National Union of Students in Wales that meeting the cost of living is a major challenge for students with the current arrangements.

“It is now for the Welsh Government to respond to the recommendations of the review. HEFCW is on hand to provide expert analysis of the options that need to be considered and to support the implementation process.”

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Education

Styling their way to the top

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(Left to right) Level 2 - Festival theme - work by Holly Mathias and Celebration of Colour - Level 2 and 3 – work by Leah Rees

FOUR hairdressing learners: Holly Mathias, Jenna Kilgallon, Helaina Thomas and Leah Rees, recently earned themselves a place in the next stage of the Concept Hair Magazine Learner of the Year Competition.

The candidates were invited into the College to show their fully presented entries as evidence and then submitted them remotely to the Concept Hair Magazine judges in December.

The categories for the competition were: Festival Hair, Red Carpet, Old School Barbershop, Celebration of Colour and Safari.

The unique styles allowed the learners to show off their creative hair styling skills from plaits to updos, to bold colour creations.

Charlotte Jones, Hairdressing lecturer was over the moon with the learners’ success; “We were all so impressed with the creativity, dedication and enthusiasm of all the students who took part in the competition. Also, the students who supported the entries during the day and the models who gave up their time to be involved. They should all be very proud of what they have achieved. The results were amazing!”

The students worked to COVID regulations ensuring all the correct PPE and procedures were followed.

Finalist, Holly Mathias entered three categories which included; Styling Level 2 – Festival Theme, Hair Up Level 2 – Red Carpet and Avant Garde – Safari.

Holly shared her experience; “Taking part in the Concept Hair competition, has really boosted my confidence and proved that hard work really does pay off. The support from the staff at Pembrokeshire College is outstanding. I would recommend everyone to take part in this competition as not only is it an amazing experience, but it really allows you to think outside the box and be as creative as you can! I would 100% take part in this competition again.”

Holly plans to go into full-time employment when she completes her course and hopes to one day work on cruise ships or even own her own salon.

The next stage involves the candidates submitting photographic entries on the 12th March where six will be shortlisted for the national finals which is set to take place virtually in April.

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Education

Teacher’s gruelling challenge to help visually impaired child

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TEACHER Sion Jenkins is running 100 laps around a famous Pembrokeshire landmark to raise money to help a visually impaired child in his class.

He is aiming to raise £2,000 on crowd funder platform Go Fund Me by doing laps of Carew Castle and Mill in just 24 hours, about one hundred miles in total.

Sion said: “I decided that I wanted to raise money to help purchase a trike/adapted bike to help a visually impaired child in my class.

“Due to his sight, he isn’t able to ride a bike – and is desperate to gain some independence/confidence and ride a bike like every other child.

“On the back of a challenge set by school, to complete the ‘100 challenge’ as a tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore, I decided to tie the two together and have a go at completing this gruelling challenge.

“100 laps of Carew Castle and Mill will total just under 100 miles – in less than 24 hours.”

If you would like to contribute to this epic challenge this is the link:

https://uk.gofundme.com/f/carew-mill-100-laps-in-24-hours?

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