Tuesday 27-09-2016 - 13:05
NUS Wales President Fflur Elin responds to the publication of Professor Sir Ian Diamond’s Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales.
Accessible, inclusive education in which everyone can excel and a post-compulsory sector where vocational and academic pathways are given parity of esteem; that is the vision that brought me to the student movement. However, in our current system education is still a privilege not a right. Advantaged 18-year-olds are still more likely to go to university than those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the BME attainment gap is evidence that institutional racism is still rooted in UK universities and the financial pressures on students are becoming unmanageable.
These financial pressures are not only barring people from education higher education in the first place, but the ever rising cost of education is also causing issues for student within HE. When we talk about the cost of education we must start acknowledging that the full cost of education includes the money a student needs to live whilst in university. The current costs are driving students into private debt, causing mental health issues, forcing students to live in their overdraft and constraining students to squalid housing that leads to health problems. The cost of living has become untenable.
Our role as a student movement is to break down these barriers to access, participation and success in every educational and training pathway – Diamond lays the foundations for achieving this within Higher Education. The proposed system isn’t perfect, no system that forces students into debt is, and there is no doubt that the removal of the tuition fee subsidy will increase the burden of debt students will have to shoulder. However, in the current climate of austerity and the potential devastating financial impacts of Brexit, it is an attempt to create a sustainable funding system for Welsh Higher Education which targets support for those students who need it the most.
Diamond’s commitment to providing full-time, part-time and post-graduate students with a maintenance package based on the national living wage is a commitment to adequately support students with the cost of living. It also reflects that widening access is a core mission for Welsh Higher Education by giving the students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and those who have been in care the full maintenance support as a grant, maintaining and improving Disabled Students’ Allowance, and proposing to work with NUS Wales on a system to support student parents. In addition, it acknowledges that the state has a role to play in supporting students by providing a £1,000 non means tested grant for all students.
As a student movement, we believe in working for a better education and a better society. That means fighting to ensure that the Welsh budget is used to work towards a better quality of life, not only for students in Wales but also for the people of Wales. For Higher Education, this means implementing Diamond as a full package, it will not work in any other way.
And so we commend Diamond for creating a system that truly tries to address social inequality and be progressive but we also lament the increased debt burden that Westminster cuts have imposed upon us. Our next steps must be to continue widening access to education, tackling Westminster’s austerity agenda and promoting a progressive politics that champions liberation and inclusivity.