Tuition fees still on election agenda in Wales

Students Image copyright Clerkenwell/Getty Images

Tuition fees have proved a decisive factor in previous elections. Little surprise then that such a hot topic should remain high on the agenda as politicians make their last bids for your vote.

But as those last few campaign leaflets land on the mat, it is worth just remembering that education is devolved which means decisions directly affecting Welsh students are made in Cardiff, not in London.

That said, a change in policy in England could still have implications in Wales.


As things stand, from the autumn the tuition fees you are charged would depend on the university, college and course you choose.

According to Student Finance Wales, studying at a public university or college in Wales, the maximum you can be charged in tuition fees is £9,000. The tuition fee loan available is £4,046 and the fee grant available is £4,954.

If you chose to study at a university or college in England, Northern Ireland or Scotland the maximum you can be charged is £9,250, the tuition fee loan available £4,296 and the fee grant available £4,954.

The tuition fee loan and fee grant are not income assessed, which means that your entitlement for these does not depend on your household income.

Then there are living costs. To help you with these costs you can apply for a Welsh Government Learning Grant, which you don't need to pay back but it depends on how much your family's household income is. And there is Maintenance Loan - between £5,358 and £9,696 depending where in the UK you are studying - which you do have to repay.

Student finance in Wales

Diamond proposals, from 2018

  • £1,000 grant a year for all students

  • £9,113 maximum level of additional grant support towards living costs

  • £7,000 average support with living costs students would receive

  • £5,100 existing tuition fees grant to be scrapped

  • £80,000 family income bracket to receive basic £1,000 grant

From September 2018, the Diamond Review proposals are due to start. Students will take out a loan to pay their fees and will get £1,000 a year towards living costs instead.

But those from the most disadvantaged background could get a grant to up to £8,000. So the grant and loan would be a maximum £9,000 for students living away from home and outside London.

Timeline: Welsh student grants and fees


In Wales, 29.5% of 18-year-old pupils got places in higher education, according to latest Ucas figures for 2016. This is a record proportion and the fifth successive year that entry rates have risen.

But there is still a difference depending on where you live. When broken down by constituency, Cardiff North has consistently had the highest entry rate over the last 10 years - 43.6% of 18-year-old pupils living there in 2016 went to university; while the lowest was in a more deprived area like Blaenau Gwent (19.7%), although still an improvement on the 15.5% in 2006.

Image copyright PA


Welsh Labour wants to take forward the Diamond Review proposals to re-shape student finance in Wales.

They are proposing a new system where students would receive the equivalent to the national living wage in maintenance during term time - financial support through a mixture of grants and loans.

The party says it has always been clear that education should be free and if funding allowed, there should be no tuition fees, but also points out that higher education operates in a UK context.

So what might that mean for students now Jeremy Corbyn is proposing that university tuition should not cost students anything? He wants to remove fees and reintroduce maintenance grants in England. Labour believes this would cost £11.2bn a year.

There are no fees for Scottish students in Scotland and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says scrapping the lower fees charged in Northern Ireland and Wales would cost a further £500m per year.

But Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones has said "it would be difficult to conceive" a scenario where fees are abolished in England but not Wales.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are also promising a fundamental shift as they would want to provide financial support for the daily living costs of all students, where all students receive the equivalent of the national living wage, and a £1,000 annual non-means-tested universal maintenance grant.

The Welsh Conservatives are on record as supporting the Diamond Review findings and saying they "have always believed that support should be targeted at those who need it".

For this election, they said they would aim to make higher education "more accessible for all, and supporting further education, we will break down barriers to learning, allowing people to gain the skills and qualifications they need to succeed".

In their manifesto, they said they would work with the Welsh Government and higher education institutions to secure funding for universities and to maximise research, collaboration, and student and staff exchange opportunities post-Brexit.

They also want to raise the status of vocational education.

Plaid Cymru believes that, in principle, higher education should be free for all and pledge to continue to work towards this aim.

They want to provide a subsidy to students resident in Wales who want to study in Wales. They also want to see those studying subjects vital to the Welsh economy and public goals pay no tuition fees in Wales. That, they envisage, would be students taking up key healthcare posts, studying science, engineering and technology subjects and students from particularly challenging backgrounds.

In their manifesto, Ukip Wales say they want to put in place increased autonomy for universities in Wales to establish fee structures that are competitive and allow universities to thrive into the future.

According to Universities Wales, which represents the interests of universities in Wales, they generate more than £4.6bn in output for the Welsh economy and over 46,500 jobs.

High on their agenda is securing a Brexit deal that will give the UK access to and influence over EU research and innovation programmes.

Welsh universities also want a future UK government to ensure they can continue to attract world class talent from across the world by minimising barriers for EU university staff and students and action to sustain or replace European Structural Funds at a devolved level.

On tuition fees, Universities Wales has welcomed the Welsh Government's proposals to move forward with the Diamond recommendations.

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