Welsh Government rejection of greater apprenticeship and postgraduate support “disappointing”, say Welsh Conservatives
Opportunity for cash savings to be reinvested into incentive scheme for boosting take-up of demand subjects  

Welsh Conservatives have given a cautious welcome to the Welsh Government’s consultation on the future of student support in Wales – announced today – while expressing disappointment that it has rejected key recommendations on apprenticeships and post-graduate teaching support.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams AM today announced that a consultation on the implementation of Professor Sir Ian Diamond’s proposed changes to student support and Higher Education would run until February 2017.

Under the current system, the cost to the public purse for maintenance and tuition fee grants is estimated at £400m.

In his review, Professor Diamond recommended replacing tuition fee grants with a maintenance grants to all Welsh domiciled students as a way of delivering a more sustainable model of student support – something Welsh Conservatives have long called on the Welsh Government to implement.

Among the recommendations, he suggests a £1,000 non-means tested universal maintenance grant and a means-tested grant to cover living costs with an upper eligibility household income threshold increase from £50,020 to £81,000.

The Cabinet Secretary today announced that she accepted these recommendations in principle but would look instead to introduce a means-tested household income threshold of £59,200 instead of the £81,000 figure – such a reduction is estimated to save around £40 million per annum on the Diamond Review recommendations, based on current student numbers.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Education, Darren Millar AM, today urged Kirsty Williams that any savings should be reinvested into widening access for higher and further education, and suggested that future grants and student support should be safeguarded against the encroachment of inflationary rises by index linking them.
Speaking outside the Assembly Chamber, Mr Millar said:

“I am surprised that the Cabinet Secretary has not embraced the full gamut of Professor Diamond’s recommendations as had been suggested in a briefing yesterday.

“It is disappointing to see that key recommendations on apprenticeships and support for post-graduate teaching costs have been rejected by the Welsh Government, but we support the direction of travel, including the Cabinet Secretary’s decision to lower maintenance grants’ upper earnings threshold as this will make the student support system more affordable in the future.

“The effect of this decision on families with more than one child in university should be closely monitored to ensure that their finances are not too adversely affected as a result.

“Students grants must be safeguarded against inflationary rises so we would recommend that the Welsh Government explores the possibility of index linking grants as a way of offsetting this risk.

“There is a real opportunity here for the extra savings to be partly reinvested into an incentive scheme to encourage better take-up of subjects which help to address skills gaps in our economy and public sector, such as medicine and engineering, and we would welcome discussions with the Cabinet Secretary on these issues.”

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