IN A much-trailed intervention into the debate on the cost of higher education to those participating in it, PM Theresa May has announced that the UK Government is to reconsider the operation of tuition fee loans taken up by students to fund their degrees.
Mrs May made her move in an effort to recapture some of the youth vote lost by the Conservatives in 2017’s General Election; particularly in those marginal seats containing university towns, where students voted in significant numbers, reduced Conservative majorities, and unseated some sitting MPs.
Among suggestions trailed by the UK’s Education Department is ensuring Universities do not charge the maximum tuition fees for every course, with a differential being proposed between STEM subjects and the Arts and Social Sciences. Such a move would suggest that the government acknowledges the abject failure of the supposed ‘internal market’ for higher education it anticipated would be created when it trebled the maximum tuition fee payable by students during the Conservative/Liberal coalition led by David Cameron.
While the changes suggested affect only English students, any change would almost inevitably impact upon student finance in Wales, where the government has adopted a significantly different approach under Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, Welsh Liberal Democrats reminded the UK Government that they only need to look to Wales to find what they says is ‘a fair and effective student finance system’.
In 2016 the Diamond Review recommended replacing tuition fee grants in favour of support for students’ living costs. This recognised the fact that living costs are a greater financial concern than tuition fees for students and reflected Welsh Liberal Democrat policy.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams has since implemented Professor Diamond’s recommendations and created the most generous student finance system in the UK.
Whilst the UK Government ended maintenance grants in England, the Welsh Government have created a system that gives students the equivalent of the National Living Wage through a combination of grants and loans. The system is also the first in Europe to provide equivalent support for part-time and postgraduate learners.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Fair Wales Rhys Taylor commented: “Thanks to Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Wales now has the most generous and progressive student finance system in the UK. This effective and sensible approach to student finance is backed by students and universities alike.
“Whilst the UK Government preoccupied themselves with ending maintenance grants, Kirsty Williams has been busy ensuring that for every student in Wales it is your academic ability and not your ability to pay that determines whether you can study at University. If the UK Government want a better and fairer student finance system they don’t need a new review, they just need to look to Wales.”
WRU and unis combine on degree
THE WELSH RUGBY UNION (WRU), University of South Wales (USW), Cardiff Blues, and the Dragons have launched a new Foundation Degree in Rugby Coaching and Development which will combine study with practical experience to enhance students’ employability.
The two-year blended learning course will ensure the students gain hands-on coaching skills as part of the Dragons or Cardiff Blues community rugby teams while working towards a valuable qualification at USW.
The course is ideal for individuals who wish to work in the ever-expanding rugby industry, either as a coach, or as a member of staff working within communities developing and delivering sports initiatives.
On completion of the Foundation Degree course, students can progress on to a third year of studies to achieve a BSc (Hons) degree in Rugby Coaching and Performance.
The course allows students to study all sub-disciplines of coaching and gain valuable industry-recognised qualifications and will teach students aspects of children and youth coaching, rugby coaching, rugby development, social inclusion and sports management skills.
Paul Rainer, Head of Sports Science and Sports Coaching at the University of South Wales said “This is an excellent initiative and the collaboration between the University, WRU and the regions will provide the next generation of community coaches in Wales to support the development of the game at grass-roots level.”
“The course provides flexibility in how the student will study and provides an opportunity for the student to develop their vocational skills within the Dragons or Blues community programmes whilst working towards their Welsh Rugby Union Level 1 and 2 coaching certificates and working towards a degree qualification.”
WRU Head of Rugby Participation Ryan Jones said, “We are determined to continue to invest in coaches to safeguard the future of our game. This partnership is a great example of that, with key partners working together for the good of the students and the game.”
WRU Community Coach Development Manager Gerry Roberts added: “The rugby industry is a growing one and it is important that this course aligns the academic study of coaching with vital skills that can only be gained on the ground, working within the regional community teams on all aspects of community rugby.”
University nominated for LGBT+ Award
ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY has been nominated for a public sector equality award at the 2018 PinkNews Awards.
The nominations were announced at a special PinkNews event held in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay on June 7.
Aberystwyth is the only Welsh university and one of three institutions from Wales on the longlist of 21 public sector organisations throughout the UK.
The award aims to recognise the contributions of public sector organisations in championing the inclusion and rights of LGBT+ employees and those in the wider community.
A panel of judges will decide the winner, which will be announced at the PinkNews Awards in London on October 17, 2018.
Ruth Fowler, Equality Officer in the Department of Human Resources at Aberystwyth University, said: “We are delighted that Aberystwyth University is flying the flag for the Welsh higher education sector in these important awards. Equality and diversity are embedded across the University. We have a range of policies and positive action plans in place to ensure Aberystwyth is an inclusive and forward-thinking place to work and to study for all, including an LGBT network for staff as well as a series of high-profile LGBT events.”
The annual PinkNews Awards has become one of the UK’s most significant LGBT+ events, championing the efforts of politicians, campaigners, charities, businesses, public sector organisations, broadcasters and journalists in the fight for equality for all.
WG backtracks on uniform grant
PARENTS in Wales will soon be able to access a new £1.7m fund to help cover the cost of school uniforms, school sports kit and for wider activities such as scouts and guides and sports outside of school.
The new fund, announced by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams, will also cover equipment for activities within the curriculum, such as design and technology.
In addition, parents will also be able to access funding for equipment for out of school hours trips, including outdoor learning.
The new fund, which will be in place ahead of the new academic year in September, will become another element of the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) and will be known as PDG – Access.
As well as making funding available for new uniforms and activities both in and outside the classroom, PDG – Access will be available to a wider range of pupils than the previous School Uniform Grant and attract a higher per pupil funding level of £125.
For the first time, learners in both Reception and Year 7, who are eligible for free school meals will fall within scope of the funding. Unlike the previous school uniform grant, all looked after children in these year groups will also be covered.
As with the previous scheme, the funding will be distributed via local authorities. The Welsh Government has worked with local authorities to develop the grant and will continue to do so to make sure that the funding is being used effectively and that good practice is being shared amongst schools.
Announcing PDG-Access today, Kirsty Williams said: “Reducing the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is at the heart of our national mission to raise standards.
“The Pupil Development Grant has already been described as “invaluable” by schools. PDG – Access will allow us to go that step further in supporting our disadvantaged learners to reach their full potential and narrowing the attainment gap between those learners and their peers.”
In addition to the grant, further consideration is also being given to current non-statutory school uniforms guidance and how it can be strengthened.
Commenting, Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar, said: “This announcement amounts to an embarrassing climb-down from the Minister, and comes after a huge backlash from all corners.
“Make no mistake, the Education Secretary has been forced into doing the right thing.
“We warned that scrapping the grant would hit the poorest pupils the hardest and thankfully the Welsh Government has seen sense.
“Labour’s bonfire of education grants is causing huge concern amongst parents and teachers alike, and this u-turn is a sad indictment of the Welsh Government’s mismanagement of its resources.”
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