Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrats Shadow Education Minister, has today launched the Welsh Liberal Democrat higher education policy for the 2016 Assembly elections.
The policy, voted for by members of the party, will shift the focus of government assistance for Welsh students from tuition fee debt to maintenance support while at university.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats would:
Introduce a Student Living Support Grant for all Welsh-domiciled students registered for a first undergraduate degree at a UK university, including part-time students, payable on top of the existing means-tested Assembly Learning Grant. This will be funded by withdrawing the Tuition Fee Grant.
Support access to higher education by introducing a programme to encourage prospective students from backgrounds with a traditionally low participation in higher education, paying the full tuition fees of care-leavers, and requiring universities to adopt a 'Fair Access Agreement' outlining measures to broaden access and improve student retention.
The proposals will benefit students from Wales by giving them more financial assistance when they need it most to help meet pressing living costs, rather than paying a future debt that many would never be required to repay in full.
The proposals will also benefit Welsh universities as they will see part of their teaching block grant restored. The Welsh Labour government slashed the teaching block grant paid to universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) in order to fund the Tuition Fee Grants.
Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Minister, said:
"The Welsh Liberal Democrat policy sets out a new liberal vision for higher education that builds on the core principles that access to higher education should be determined by academic ability and not social background.
"We realise that a critical factor in deterring participation in higher education is not tuition fees, but the cost of living for students during their studies, especially for students from lower-income backgrounds and those from middle-income families that do not qualify for the full Assembly Learning Grant.
"What we are announcing is how Welsh Liberal Democrats will look to support university students following the 2016 elections. The policy in brief is giving students financial support upfront so that they can pay for their living costs while at university rather than giving them money to pay back a loan they can pay back over a number of years.
"As the Student Living Support Grant will be paid to all Welsh-domiciled students studying at UK universities, it will not discriminate against students who choose to go to universities in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. These proposals will also increase financial support for students who study part-time time, placing them on a more even footing with full-time student.
"While Welsh Liberal Democrats MPs voted against the tuition fee policy in England, we recognise that we have work to do to regain the trust of voters. This detailed, honest and upfront policy goes someway to explain to people how we will afford a very costly policy while ensuring young people get the education and support they deserve.
"Welsh Liberal Democrats are being honest and open with the students of Wales about what how we can help them through university. It's just a shame that the Welsh Labour party won't tell the people of Wales what their plans are for higher education funding before the elections in 2016."