Wales politics

Students need help with living costs, union leader says

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Media captionBeth Button says a broader debate is needed on student support

Students in Wales need help to meet their living costs, as well as tuition fees, a student leader has said.

Grants of up to £5,190 are available towards tuition fees, usually £9,000.

Beth Button, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) in Wales, said support should be considered for all students, not just those at university.

Welsh universities have said tuition fee subsidies - costing £229m in 2014/15 - could be better spent helping poor students meet their living costs.

Students at a publicly-funded university or college in the UK can be charged a maximum of £9,000 a year in tuition fees.

All university students from Wales can apply for a tuition fee grant of up to £5,190 from the Welsh government which does not depend on their household income.

If the fees are higher, loans are available to cover the rest.

Ms Button said: "We need to broaden the debate not just to look at tuition fees but to look at student support across further and higher education.

"In principle we absolutely support the current tuition fee arrangements - however, unless there is increased investment from the Welsh government into the education budget, difficult decisions have to be made."

The debate about the best way of supporting students comes as funding for higher education in Wales comes under increasing pressure.

The body which funds Welsh universities - the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) - said its funding was cut by £41m - almost a third - in Tuesday's draft budget.

In November, a committee of assembly members said colleges in Wales and support for poorer students should be the priorities for money currently spent on tuition fee subsidies.

Plaid Cymru has voiced concerns that universities in England are benefitting from the tuition fee subsidy policy, and say only colleges in Wales should benefit.

The Conservatives have promised a hardship fund for poorer students.

The Liberal Democrats say they would replace the tuition fee grant with maintenance grants for students and more direct help for cash-strapped universities.

The Welsh government has described its tuition fee subsidy as "an investment in young people", and said the Diamond review of student finance in Wales would inform policy for the future.

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