There has been quite a lot of talk in recent days of the Welsh Government's decision to modify the tuition fees model in Wales, so I thought I'd clear up a lot of the disinformation that is being spread around.
Firstly, a few people have accused Labour of being disingenuous by promising to scrap tuition fees at the 2017 General Election in its manifesto. There is an important distinction to note here - tuition fees are a devolved capacity so they are set by the Welsh Government via the National Assembly for Wales. Welsh Labour Assembly Members were elected on an entirely separate manifesto, in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections. This manifesto committed Welsh Labour to implementing the recommendations of the Diamond Review - so the actions taken to change the fees system in Wales were democratically endorsed by the electorate at the election in 2016. The 2017 manifesto was to the House of Commons - which only deals with tuition fees in England. This is still relevant to Wales, as increases in funding for England via the House of Commons result in a 'Barnett consequential' increase in funding for Wales.
This is why the fee change has been necessary - due to the decision of the Conservatives in the House of Commons, government funding to universities has been cut by over 80%. Wales' budget has been reduced in line with this. Although the Assembly has the power to set fees, the House of Commons in effect has the power to choose how much money the Assembly has to pay for these measures. For this reason, tuition fees in Wales have been at £9,000 for a number of years - with the Welsh Government paying off a significant proportion of the fees via the 'tuition fees grant'. As the funding cuts came from the Conservatives in Westminster and student numbers in Wales have risen, the grant has risen to almost £250m a year. Universities in Wales have seen their budgets barely rise as a result, with non-statutory mandated services cut heavily, explaining a large rise in redundancies in the Welsh higher education sector.
The Diamond Review therefore undertook a study and found that the main concern of poorer students accessing university was not fees, but funding their time and living costs at university. The 'maintenance loans' were found to be a regressive system - poorer students required a larger loan, therefore graduating with more debt to pay back.
The Diamond Review therefore recommended that the £5,100 tuition fees grant be replaced with a basic maintenance grant of £1,000 for all students, with an additional means-tested grant. This is designed to remove the cost of living at university (and expected parental subsidy during this time), removing a barrier to a university education for poorer students. They will also graduate with less debt due to the maintenance grant replacing the current maintenance loan, and are less likely to take out overdrafts with banks.
The National Union of Students Wales has welcomed the Diamond Review, stating: "“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.”