Wales politics

Student rent support plan from Welsh Conservatives

University graduates

Radical plans to scrap tuition fee subsidies and pay half of students' rent instead have been announced by the Welsh Conservatives.

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

The Welsh government pays up to £5,190 on top of that, which the Tories claim is "unsustainable" at an annual cost of £229m.

The party said its £75m-a-year plans help with living costs and were fairer.

Their argument is accommodation costs often take a chunk out of a student's maintenance loan and the plan would help free up funds for their education.

'Potentially prohibitive'

Tory leader Andrew RT Davies said higher education funding in Wales needed a "radical shake-up".

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Media captionAndrew RT Davies says rent is a bigger concern for students than tuition fees

"Welsh Conservatives are the only party proposing a radical new approach which offers students the support they need with potentially prohibitive living costs," he said.

"Accommodation costs often swallow up maintenance loans, meaning students - and their parents - often struggle with everyday living costs associated with university life.

"We want to change that - offering students timely, urgent support that will improve the accessibility of education; simultaneously ending Labour's unsustainable tuition fee grant."

The Tories said average rental costs in Wales for students were around £118 a week, meaning students would receive on average £59 a week in rent subsidy.

The money would be paid wherever in the UK the student chooses to go to university.

'Reward landlords'

Education Minister Huw Lewis has suggested Labour would continue to subsidise tuition fees if the party won the election in May, but hinted the subsidies may be means-tested.

Responding to the Conservative plan, he said Labour was "proud" of a policy which he said had protected thousands of Welsh students, facing on average £22,000 less debt compared to graduates in England.

Plaid Cymru said it would shift to a system where graduates who work in Wales would get £6,000 a year of their tuition fee debts written off.

Education spokesman Simon Thomas claimed the Tory plan would push up rents and buy-to-let house prices in university towns and cities.

"While Plaid Cymru will reward students for working in Wales after graduation, the Tories will reward landlords for being lucky enough to own property to let out," he said.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have said they would replace tuition fee subsidies with maintenance grants for students and more direct help for cash-strapped universities.

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