NUS Wales warns over England finance shake-up impact

Students in corridor Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A new system of student finance in Wales was introduced last September

Student leaders have warned that any changes to tuition fees or student finance in England should not have a negative impact on students in Wales.

It comes as a major review of post-18 education in England recommended that university tuition fees there should be reduced to a maximum £7,500.

The Welsh Government is responsible for deciding policy in Wales.

But the university sectors either side of the border are closely linked.

Thousands of Welsh students who study in England would be affected by the changes if they are implemented as recommended from 2021-22.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams previously said the university sector "does not operate in isolation" and any changes of the scale of those being proposed for England would have an impact on universities here who are competing for students in the same market.

If the cost of fees was cut in England, it seems likely universities here would have to follow suit - the maximum Welsh universities can charge now is £9,000, compared to £9,250 in England.

NUS Wales broadly welcomed the Augar report's recommendations, particularly those around lifelong learning.

"However, it is vital that changes in England do not negatively affect the experience of students at colleges and universities in Wales," said a spokesman.

"People who choose to study at Welsh institutions should not be financially penalised for that choice, and those institutions must continue to be able to deliver the higher student satisfaction rates they are currently achieving."

If tuition fees are reduced, universities on both sides of the border will be concerned about where the shortfall in income will come from.

If it is direct from the UK government then ministers in Wales will expect a share too.

Universities Wales called for the UK government to consider the impact any reforms would have.

"It is essential that any cut in fees is made up by increased funding and that Wales receives full Barnett consequentials for that funding," a spokesman said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This is how the sliding scale of help for Welsh students living away from home works - it was introduced for the 2018/19 academic year

In 2017-18, almost 40% of students from Wales studying full time at university in were at institutions in England.

While the Welsh Government waits to see whether the UK government adopts the recommendations - there may be a long wait for clarity as Brexit and the prospect of a new prime minister dominate in Westminster - it has focused on student support in its response.

The review recommends a new means-tested maintenance grant for English students but Welsh ministers claim they have led the way, introducing major changes to student finance - including a grant for living costs - at the start of this academic year.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Our priorities will continue to be ensuring that our students have access to support that enables them to meet their day-to-day living costs, that our higher education institutions have access to a sustainable level of funding and to make sure that support extends to part-time and postgraduate students."

Although the headlines are focused on university tuition fees, today's report also asks whether non-university routes and vocational education have been neglected - questions that are equally pertinent in Wales.

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