Proposals for the most generous student finance support package in the UK published in Wales

27 Sep 2016 11:32 AM

Proposals for the most generous student finance support package available anywhere in the UK have been published today in Wales 

The radical overhaul of the system in Wales has been put forward after an independent review led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond and a panel of experts.

It suggests a fundamental shift to a system that provides financial support for the daily living costs of students – both full and part time -  through a mix of grants and loans. It would mean students receiving the equivalent of the National Living Wage during term time while they study. 

The average Welsh student could receive £7,000 a year in grant support while they study, with a pro-rata version available to part-time students. The maximum level of support available would be £9,113 a year for those studying full time.

Professor Diamond’s proposals aim to ensure all those who want to go to university are able to do so, while making the system more sustainable in the long term.

The panel recommends new, innovative ways of funding part-time students and a support package for post-graduate studies that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They also propose new ideas for supporting research and knowledge transfer; and a Welsh programme for research students.

Recommendations include:

  • A new improved maintenance grant support system for undergraduate, post-graduate and part time students. The highest level of grant support will go to those most in need.  
  • A £1,000 annual non-means-tested universal maintenance grant to be made available to all students alongside the additional means-tested grant to cover living costs. Part-time students to receive a modified version of this support on a pro-rata basis.
  • The top rate of maintenance grant and/or loan support, for a student living away from home outside London, should be equivalent to the National Living Wage – based on 37.5 hours per week over a 30 week period, currently £8,100. A maximum total grant of 25% more (£10,125) to be available for a student living away from home in London and 15% less (£6,885) for students living at home.
  • Maintenance support to be paid to students on a monthly basis to enable more efficient financial planning and budgeting. 
  • Given the context of austerity in the UK, the recommended improvements to the overall student support package can only be achieved by releasing funds currently used to provide tuition fee grants to full-time undergraduates. The tuition fee grant for full-time undergraduate students should be replaced with a student loan, up to a maximum fee level agreed with the Welsh Government. Repayments would only begin once graduates earn a salary above £21,000. 

Professor Diamond said:

“It is essential to continue to invest in educating the future generations who will drive the economy and society of the future. 

“In the twenty first century this requires an education system that minimises the attainment gap between rich and poor and allows people to access higher level skills that are the lifeblood of the kind of nation to which Wales aspires. 

“The funding of higher education should be a partnership between wider society and the individual. In contrast to England, where maintenance support for students will be based on loans, we propose a significant universal element of maintenance support for full-time students, meaning students from Wales will face a significantly lower average level of debt on leaving university than those from England.”

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said:

“I want to thank Professor Diamond and his team for all their work.  This report presents a progressive and sustainable plan for Higher Education in Wales. 

“My Cabinet colleagues and I endorse the underlying principles in the report and we will now look into the detail of how we can implement these recommendations.

“We want to make sure that those who wish to go on to university are able to. The fear of not being able to meet the cost of living on a daily basis puts many off, not the prospect of paying back loans after they are in work. This system addresses that issue head on, but will also mean making tough decisions to make sure the system is sustainable in the long-term.

“The generous package of support proposed by the panel would mean Welsh students would benefit from the only UK system that is consistent, progressive and fair across all levels and modes of study.

“I am deeply committed to making sure access to higher education should be determined by academic ability and not social background.”

Changes to the student support system in Wales would not come into effect until 2018 at the earliest.