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Education, News, Politics

University education funding loop-holes?

The Welsh Government has rejected claims that it could find itself footing the bill for thousands of European students as a result of its decision to limit the fees students living in Wales have to pay.

A report in the Sunday Times claimed that; ‘thousands of European students could have their fees at English universities paid by the Welsh Government because of an anomaly in European Union law.’

I can’t link to the article online because of the Times pay-wall, but you get the gist.

We already knew that students from EU countries would benefit from the same support given to those students who qualify because they’re ‘normally resident in Wales.’

That’s attracted some criticism with the ‘loop-hole’ the report claims exists, having potentially disastrous consequences.

The thought is that because the support extends to students living in Wales but studying in England, it must also apply to EU students studying in England.

If it that were true, then it could mean, as the leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly, Andrew RT Davies has put it, that the Welsh Government ‘risks bankrupting itself.’

But the Welsh Government has a simple answer – it’s not true.

A spokesperson acknowledged that EU students studying here will get the same support as Welsh students, but that “in general the Welsh Government is only responsible for EU students who choose to study inWales.”

That ‘in general’ appears to leave open the possibility that the Sunday Times report is right about the loohole. But those working in education believe that the slight ambiguity refers to the small number of EU students who are already living inWalesand who then decide to study in England.

Here’s the full statement:

“The Welsh Government will provide additional tuition fee support to students ordinarily resident inWalesfrom 2012/2013. This means that students will be able to apply for a tuition fee grant to cover any fee above £3,465.

“EU students studying inWalescurrently pay the same fees as UK students and are offered student support on the same basis as those students who normally live inWales.  This position is the same throughout the UK and will not change in academic year 2012/13.

“For example, EU students studying inWaleswill pay the same fees asUKstudents and be offered student support on the same basis as students who normally live inWales. In general  the Welsh Government is only responsible for EU students who choose to Study in Wales.”

That hasn’t stopped Andrew RT Davies calling for a more detailed statement from the Education Minister. He’s said;

“The Welsh Government is already duty bound to pay for EU students who study inWales, but this could have huge financial consequences. If this legal advice proves accurate then the entire policy is surely in tatters.

“The Minister should make a statement at the earliest opportunity providing clarification on the Welsh Government’s position.

“As it stands, students acrossWalesare planning for their university education in the belief that they may study inEnglandwith the financial support of the Welsh Government. Any question marks over the future of the tuition fee subsidy will be extremely worrying for those considering studying in England next year.

“It always appeared that the policy had been costed on the back of a fag packet, but now I wonder if they even gave it that much thought. Not only does this make the Minister look naïve, his advisors surely have questions to answer.”

UPDATE 1700

Now the Liberal Democrats are calling for clarification.

Their Education Spokesman, Aled Roberts, is pushing for the Education Minister, Leighton Andrews to answer an urgent question in the Chamber tomorrow (Tuesday.) He said,

It is very concerning that the Welsh Government hasn’t come out and categorically stated that they will not be liable for the tuition fees of EU students if they study in England. If the Welsh Government has legal advice ruling this out, then that is obviously welcome and they should publish it to reassure students and many Welsh tax payers.

We know that the Welsh Government has yet to clarify the financing of its student tuition fee policies but the added pressure of possibly having to pay EU students’ tuition fees could bankrupt the Welsh Government.

UPDATE 1740

I’m sorry to say I overlooked this nugget of information regarding the number of EU students in the UK in the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ press release.

The bill for paying the tuition fees of thousands of EU students could bankrupt the Welsh Government as there are approximately 105,000 first degree undergraduate full time EU students in the UK at the moment.

It’ll be interesting to see whether or not this controversy goes any further when the Assembly meets tomorrow (Tuesday.)

On the face of it, the Welsh Government’s response today already gives the clarification which the opposition parties are calling for.

But that vague ‘in general’ is what has allowed them to prise open the statement and make their calls for further clarity. How many students does ‘in general’ mean? We’ll watch with interest.

UPDATE 1802

Will this end the ambiguity? A spokesman for the Welsh Government has now said,

Let’s be clear – the Welsh Government will only offer support to EU students who choose to study in Wales. We will not offer student support to EU students who study anywhere else in the UK.

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About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.

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