Thursday 29-09-2016 - 15:42
As you probably know by now the recommendations of Sir Ian Diamond’s review were published this week. As NUS Wales Women’s Officer I want to talk about what the recommendations mean for women students.
Of course the most eye-catching recommendation is that the tuition fee subsidy should be removed. This would mean that many full-time undergraduate students will be taking out a £9,000 tuition fee loan each year of their study. But (and it is an important ‘but’) this is to be offset by a better maintenance package for students linked to the National Living Wage. Students from the poorest backgrounds, would be eligible to receive a full maintenance grant of £8,100 grant. What’s more every student, irrespective of household income, would qualify for a £1,000 non-means tested maintenance grant, in contrast to their English counterparts.
Of course it is disappointing that Welsh students may face an increase in tuition fees. I believe students should not be leaving university with ever-growing mountains of debt and it is clear that students really do care about the headline cost of their university degree. Having a price-tag on a degree at all entrenches the marketisation of education. We must remember though that budgets in Wales are imposed by Westminster austerity. The cuts being pushed by the Conservative Government affect Wales, we are underfunded as a result. Despite this, the proposals suggest a progressive way of widening access to education through the removal of the tuition fee subsidy. The recommendation is that the money generated is reinvested in students; this really would open doors for women into education, especially into part-time and postgraduate pathways.
Part-time study is hugely important for women in Wales, especially student parents who are predominately women. In 2014 NUS Wales published a report “Pound in your Pocket”, which highlighted the struggles that students faced when it came to living costs. A huge 77% of student parents were worried about not having enough money to meet basic living expenses, such as rent and bills. This put a strain on their wellbeing and meant that one third of students considered dropping out of university due to financial burden. Diamond’s recommendation is that part-time students maintenance funding will echo that of full-time undergraduates and that part-time students will be able to receive a full maintenance grant if their household income is less than £25,000. This reflects the fact part-time students often have other dependants. This puts student parents in a much stronger financial position that means they do not have to rely so heavily on unreliable childcare arrangements with friends and family. The recommendations will ensure that public investment in part-time students is comparable to that of full-time students and, for the first time, allow them to have the student experience that could potentially lift them off of the bread line. We also know the children of parents who went to university themselves are also more likely to gain a degree. An investment in people who might not have been able to afford to go to university, should truly be seen as an investment in the future, as they become role models for their children.
It is a sad fact that even though more women are attending university then men they find it much harder to get a graduate job. Women are 20% more likely to return from work to education within three years of graduating. The current system in Wales means you have to take out a private loan or fund your postgraduate degree yourself, this currently leaves many women without the option of postgraduate study. The Diamond Review recommendation, to give postgraduate students the opportunity to take out a loan for their tuition and grant and loan maintenance support to match that of a full time undergraduate degree funding package, will lift the burden of bank loans and never ending overdrafts. It will also open up the choice of postgraduate study to those who could never even think about it previously, giving women the opportunity to further their expertise before going back into a male dominated jobs market.
When looking at the recommendations of the Diamond Review it is important to assess them, and their impact on women students, as a package. We must put pressure on Westminster Governments to fund a fair deal for Wales that can ensure both adequate student support and an end to extortionate tuition fees. These recommendations, though, open up Higher Education and allow students more flexibility whilst at University. They support women to pursue pathways that weren’t open before and recognise the financial pressures on students whilst at University and, at the same time, recognise the differing experiences of part-time students and student parents. It really is one of the most progressive models in the UK.