Wales vows to hold back on top-up fees

March 21, 2003

Welsh universities will charge no top-up fees until at least April 2007, education minister Jane Davidson has said.

She told delegates at the National Union of Students Wales spring conference in Aberystwyth that top-ups would not be introduced in the next assembly term, following discussions with education secretary Charles Clarke over "the need for proper time to consider the full implications of variable fees".

Earlier this month, Ms Davidson wrote to Mr Clarke to reiterate the assembly's arguments for devolving powers on student funding to the assembly, including freedom to determine the fee regime in Wales.

In the letter, she says: "As it is proposed that top-up fees are only permitted for the final six months of the next term of the assembly, ending in April 2007, we are minded to indicate that the assembly government will therefore not be introducing top-up fees next assembly term.

"This will clarify the situation and enable us to take the necessary time to get any decision on the details of transfer of powers absolutely right."

She adds: "We will, of course, need to look at any need to apply top-up fees in Wales in the light of their application in England in 2006, and fully acknowledge that this is an area where detailed discussions will be needed.

"We would appreciate a proper and detailed dialogue on this issue in advance of your planned legislation in the autumn."

Mr Clarke, responding to the letter last week, said he understood why the assembly wished for the powers to be devolved. But he said that before the principle of transfer could be agreed, "detailed work to understand the financial implications" was necessary. Westminster will work with the assembly to bring forward proposals within two months.

The work would need to consider the implications of an assembly proposal to have powers devolved on student grants, but not on loans or fee remissions; details of relative income distribution in England and Wales; and the impact of different fee policies on cross-border flows.

Student union leaders welcomed the news with "a degree of reservation". NUS Wales president Tom McGarry said: "While it is positive that top-up fees are being ruled out until 2007 in Wales, the original government white paper proposals suggested they would not be introduced until 2006 anyway.

"The assembly needs to rule out top-up fees for good in order to ensure that widening access to higher education is successful."

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