Learning grants will help 50,000 students in Wales

June 14, 2002

About 50,000 Welsh students in further and higher education are expected to qualify for new "learning grants" unveiled by the Welsh Assembly this week, writes Tony Tysome.

In a publicity campaign to promote the mean-tested grants - available from September and likely to be worth an average £935 a year - the Assembly claimed to have broken new ground.

Assembly lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson said: "In covering both further and higher education, this brand new scheme is deliberately breaking down barriers between the so-called academic and vocational routes into learning. This major step forward in widening access shows we are taking hardship, and the ill-effects of debt among disadvantaged learners, seriously in Wales. We are the only part of the UK to tackle it in this way."

The announcement brought fresh calls from student leaders and politicians for Westminster to introduce similar grants for students in England, as part of its current student funding review.

National Union of Students president Owain James said: "These grants will not end student hardship, but they are a step in the right direction and serve as yet another prompt to Tony Blair that he needs to get his student funding review right. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all made positive changes - the question remains: when is Whitehall going to listen?"

The Assembly has set aside £44 million to fund its scheme next year. The grants will be available for some part-time as well as full-time students. The Assembly has said all Welsh students who would otherwise find it "difficult, if not impossible", to commit themselves to a further or higher education course in any UK institution will be eligible to apply.

Ms Davidson hinted that the Assembly could seek powers to scrap up-front tuition fees in a future Wales Education Bill if Westminster fails to make such a move in its student-funding review.

An Assembly spokesman said the minister "wasn't happy with up-front fees", although she supported the principle of students contributing to the cost of studies.

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