Wales politics

Minister pledges to maintain student tuition fee grants

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Media captionHuw Lewis: "We will invest in student ambition"

Tuition fee grants from the Welsh government would remain in place after May's assembly election if Labour retains power, BBC Wales has learned.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said Welsh Labour was committed to students being able to study wherever they want.

But he refused to confirm the grant would be available for all Welsh students as it is now.

Students from Wales currently only pay £3,810 towards their tuition fees, wherever they study in the UK.

The rest, up to £5,190 a year, is paid for by the Welsh government.

When asked whether the tuition fee grant would remain on a universal basis, Mr Lewis told Sunday Politics Wales: "We'll have to see what the manifestos say about that.

"I think the central principle needs to be; we will invest in your ambition as a young person and we will not curtail your ambitions, particularly when it comes to geography.

"If you really think you're best served across the border or in Scotland or Northern Ireland that's okay. So we will stick with that principle."

The policy means at the moment the Welsh government is the most generous to students of all parts of the UK.

But universities have long argued that the grant means tens of millions of pounds leaves the higher education (HE) sector in Wales and goes to the coffers of their counterparts in England.

And the Welsh Conservatives called the policy a "irresponsible, unsustainable gimmick".

Shadow education minister Angela Burns said: "The current subsidy is a runaway train that gathers piles of Welsh taxpayers' cash and dumps them in England.

"Welsh Conservatives would ensure those most in need of help received it - but we would not allow Labour's one billion pounds mistake to continue."

Last year, the head of the body responsible for allocating funding to universities in Wales said the Welsh government needed to change how it funded students from Wales to avoid universities here falling behind their English counterparts.

In 2013, BBC Wales revealed that the body representing universities here had concerns they were losing out compared to their counterparts in England because of the tuition fee grant.

BBC Wales has also revealed concerns expressed by the finance directors of universities here that the grant left "the sector with an uncertain financial future"

In November 2013, the Welsh government announced a review of HE funding and student finance arrangements in Wales, which is chaired by the Scottish academic Prof Ian Diamond.

Prof Diamond will make some of his thoughts public later this year, with the full review expected to be published after the assembly elections.

In his first interview since announcing his intention to stand down in May, Mr Lewis said he would miss life as an assembly member.

"It's been a tremendous honour to represent the community where I was born and raised; and to have served as education minister, which in many ways has been my dream job," he said.

"I'll always walk a little taller with both those things in mind. But it is time for fresh horizons now."

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