Students were stunned to learn this week that their already huge debt levels are set to increase thanks to the Labour/Lib Dem coalition’s decision to hike up tuition fees in Wales.
Education should be free and it has always been Plaid Cymru’s policy to scrap tuition fees in Wales as soon as public finances allow. We supported the proposals put forward by Professor Ian Diamond to support students with the upfront costs of living. Many students are struggling to pay for accommodation, food and books and, with the limited funding available, removing this barrier is a priority. Our MPs voted against the introduction of tuition fees by the Labour Government in 1998 and the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Government’s decision to treble them in 2010.
We were dismayed yesterday when, out of the blue, the government announced it will be increasing tuition fees in line with inflation. This follows a General Election campaign in which scrapping tuition fees was one of Labour’s key policies. Plaid Cymru has written to Labour’s UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, asking why his party is not delivering these policies here in Wales where it has the power to do so.
Unilateral action to scrap tuition fees would be difficult, but this move by Labour takes us even further away from education being freely available to everyone – a principle they claim to support.
The Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary has put her party in a position where it, again, has to apologise to students for raising tuition fees. Indeed, her defence of the decision sounded much like Jo Johnson on the Tory front bench at Westminster.
In the lead-up to the General Election, the Labour First Minister said: “…if the Tories win the general election, students will be hammered even harder. They will be forced to pay even more.” Little did students think that it would be Labour and the Lib Dems that “hammer” them with record level tuition fees in Wales.
It may be the case that our students will receive more support to cover maintenance costs than elsewhere in the UK, but this does not excuse adding to students’ financial debts – a debt many will never be able to repay.
NUS Wales are quite right to be “extremely angry” that the Welsh Government has chosen to allow students to bear the brunt of the Westminster austerity agenda. They also say that it now makes the mission of getting students into higher education harder – not easier.
The Welsh Government had a choice, it could have provided the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales with increased funding for universities, ensuring they continue to provide excellent education. Instead, it chose to pass on the cost to students.
For the second time in as many weeks, Labour is contravening its own general election manifesto. Despite promising the opposite, in Wales they’re keeping public sector wages down and putting tuition fees up. One wonders which promise it is they’ll break next?