Ben Golightly, Swansea University Socialist Students
The Welsh Government commissioned the Diamond Review in 2013 to look at higher education funding and student finance for Welsh students (a student ordinarily resident in Wales). The recommendations will mean Welsh students being charged full £9,000 tuition fees for the first time, receiving less funding overall, and paying more for their education.
The government have accepted the review, and are seeking to implement the changes in time for the 2018/19 academic year, refusing any significant amendments as they rush to update the Student Loans IT system.
Currently, Welsh students at university receive a means-tested Maintenance grant for living costs of up to a maximum of £5,161, and a non-means tested tuition fee grant of £5,100 to offset fees of up to £9,000, plus entitlement to loans. This means students contributing£3,900 towards the cost of their education, and the Welsh Government contributing £10,261 towards education and living costs.
One positive of the Diamond Report is an increase in the means-tested grant for living costs, to a maximum of £7,885 for a Welsh student living at home, or to a maximum of £9,100 for a Welsh student living away from home but outside London. The number is based on the “National Living Wage”. However, the government have clearly stated that future growth in the living wage will not be reflected in the grant, only in additional loans.
Rebalancing grants in favour of increased up-front support with living costs is, in principle, to be welcomed. But cynically it comes at the cost of scrapping entirely the tuition fee grant, introducing in substance £9,000 tuition fees to Welsh students.
All told, the poorest Welsh students will be receiving support worth £1,161 to £2,376 less per year from the Welsh Government depending on where they live while studying, and taking on more debt.
In a worrying sign for Disabled Students and lone parents, the Diamond Review and the Welsh Government’s response scandalously contain no information about the Special Support Grant. This grant has the same value as the Maintenance Grant which it replaces, but has differences in practice as receiving it doesn’t reduce loan entitlement in the same way. For low-income students with extra costs due to disability or caring responsibilities, this extra support – albeit in the form of loans – can be vital.
Positively, the review will introduce much needed support for part-time students as well as some increased support for Welsh students studying in London.