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We can't leave learners stranded

Wednesday 11-01-2017 - 14:06
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As students return to their college courses this January, we in NUS Wales have written to the Welsh Government to call on them to reconsider a decision which could leave many further education students stranded this spring.

The Welsh Government wants to drop My Travel Pass

You may have heard of the My Travel Pass scheme. It’s a discounted travel scheme funded by the Welsh Government that gives young people aged 16-18 in Wales a third off the price of their bus travel.

It was first introduced as a pilot in September 2015, but now the Welsh Government has announced that it will not be carrying on with the scheme once the pilot ends in March.

The Welsh Government has said that it’s dropping the scheme because not many people have used it. It says that only around 7% of those eligible have signed up. But others have suggested that the problem lay in how the scheme has been advertised—and we agree.

Cuts to local authorities

Transport for learners in further education is currently the responsibility of local authorities. That often means that transport policies are different depending on where you live, including the cost and level of subsidy, the eligibility criteria, and the type of transport provided.

Unfortunately, cuts to local government budgets have meant that transport for further education students is increasingly at risk, with a number of local authorities discussing the removal of support altogether.

I’m all too familiar with this after lobbying the head of Ynys Môn’s Council back in 2014 after its draft budget was released. The authority faced a huge cut in its budget that year and was forced to cut back on its already-stretched services.

One of its proposed cutbacks included the lowering of the transport subsidy for 16-18 year olds on the island. That meant an increase of 30% in the cost of a college travel card. 2 years on, this is still happening too often across Wales.

Why students need subsidised travel

Every year, college Students’ Unions tell us that their students are most concerned about the cost of getting to their college campus or placement.

We in NUS Wales believe that everyone should be able to access education, regardless of their capacity to pay for the transport to get there.

What’s more, we all know that Wales has a lot of rural areas. If we want to build Wales for the future, and enable all our people to get good education and training, we need to make sure that their communities are connected and that they are able to get to where they need to go.

You’ve probably heard about a piece of research NUS Wales did in 2014 called Pound In Your Pocket. It showed that travel costs are putting a strain on students’ abilities to balance their commitments between work, study and family life.

In fact, it found that six in ten further education students faced costs associated with travel, and one in five faced costs of £20 or more a week. And of those who had to pay more than £20 a week, almost two in five reported that this put a significant strain on them.

To make things worse, this group of students also indicated they found it significantly more difficult to understand what financial support they were entitled to.

This affects apprentices too

In April 2017, the minimum hourly wage for apprentices will still be just £3.50. But research by the National Society of Apprentices Wales indicates that apprentices are paying some £25 a week for travel—roughly 20% of their total income.

That’s a tough situation exacerbated by the fact that there are so many rurally-based providers and apprentices in Wales, and we know that if you’re rurally-based, you’ll have to spend more time and money on travel.

What NUS Wales is doing

Earlier this week, NUS Wales President Fflur Elin and I wrote a letter to the Welsh Government’s minister who has responsibility for transport to tell him how concerned we are and to call on him to reconsider. We sent a copy of our letter to the minister who looks after further education, and to the committees in the Assembly that scrutinise their work.

If the Welsh Government can accept that the problems with the scheme lay with how it was promoted, we have offered them our help in getting the message out to students and apprentices in Wales that this scheme is available.

We have also reminded them of what we called on them to do ahead of the Assembly elections last year. We wanted them to extend the concessionary travel scheme to all FE students in Wales, building on My Travel Pass, and we wanted them to commit to introducing a travel card that covers apprentices aged 16-25.

We hope very much that the Welsh Government will heed our warning that cutting this scheme will be a regressive step that will have a direct and detrimental effect on learners in Wales.

What you can do

We need learners across Wales to raise their voices. You can help in a number of ways.

  • Use this tool to find out who your Assembly Members are and then send them an email to let them know how disappointed you are and that you want the Welsh Government to reconsider. You can download a template email here that you can send straight away to your Assembly Members, or edit to include your own concerns.
  • You can also send an email to the minister who’s responsible for transport. You can download a template email here and send it directly to him.
  • It would really help if you could demonstrate how this decision will affect students negatively. So if you have any case studies, please do include them. And please do let us know too!

We can’t afford to cut this scheme

We know that learners in Wales are facing ever-increasing costs, and the cost of travel is just one part of the story.

With so many students and apprentices in Wales struggling with the cost of getting to and from their campuses and placements, we cannot afford for the Welsh Government to cut this scheme.

So, join us in letting them know how important this is. And please do share this blog to help spread the word!

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Blogs, NUS Wales

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wales,carmen smith,NUS Wales,Transport,welsh government,assembly member,devolution,Further Education,apprentices

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