Welsh Government cuts basic rate tuition fee level

Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews has announced that the basic rate for university tuition fees in Wales will be £2,000 less than original anticipated.

Imperial College today became the latest university to announce it will charge the maximum £9,000 tuition fees next year; by contrast, in Wales, education minister Leighton Andrews has announced that the basic rate for university tuition fees in Wales will be £2,000 less than original anticipated. In November, Mr Andrews announced that the fees structure in Wales would mirror England, following the decision by the House of Commons to raise the basic tuition fee rate by just under £3,000 to £6,000 a year, with an upper limit of £9,000.

In a written statement to Assembly members, however, the Minister has outlined his thinking following a consultation on the issue. He said:

“Central to the Assembly Government’s policy is the principle that access to higher education should be on the basis of the individual’s potential to benefit, and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay.

“The decision to set the basic fee level at £4,000 reflects the importance the Assembly Government places on the contribution which higher education makes to social justice.”

In welcoming the announcement, Kate Dalton, president of NUS Wales, said:

“We welcome the minister’s decision to set the basic tuition fee level at £4,000 rather than £6,000, as we made strong representations that no institution has the right to automatically double their tuition fees.

“However, let us be absolutely clear that this basic level is utterly pointless if institutions are easily allowed to charge above the basic level.

“The fee plan system must demand that institutions meet ambitious widening access targets, commit to delivering comprehensive information for students and take concrete steps to secure an excellent student experience before any of them can charge above £4,000 per year.”

And Dr Philip Dixon, director of lecturing union ATL Cymru, outlined the hope of lecturers that this move could open up access to university education for students from non traditional backgrounds. He said:

“We hope that institutions who want to charge more than the basic level will show clearly how they are widening access. Any charging above the £4,000 mark must not be allowed to dissuade youngsters from university. Entry should be on ability to achieve not ability to pay.”

Whilst the £9,000 upper limit will remain in place, today’s announcement follows a package of measures announced by the Minister last year to cushion Welsh students from the impact of tuition fee rises. Measures included funding from the Welsh Assembly government that will mean Welsh domiciled students not having to pay increased tuition fees.

Meanwhile, following the High Court’s ruling that Michael Gove had failed to follow the proper process in abolishing the Building Schools for the Future programme, Leighton Andrews has announced £20.5 million of new funding to support capital works on Welsh Schools and Colleges.

Announcing the investment, he said:

“By the end of this current Assembly term (2007-11) we will have invested over £700 million in capital funding in a range of projects across Wales. Against a background of falling capital budgets, it is good news that schools and FEIs are going to benefit from substantial capital investment which we’ve made available because of careful and prudent budgeting in this financial year.

“We want schools to be fit to deliver our curriculum in the 21st Century. The funding announced today will help in achieving that goal.”

As elections to the Assembly draw closer, expect further announcements such as this as the Welsh Government seek to highlight the differences of approach between Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.