Speech Tuition Fee Debate

Diolch Mr Speaker

As we debate the issue of tuition fees today, it’s worth reminding ourselves that 90% of us in this House have benefited from university education and the overwhelming majority, right up to the youngest of the House, those who began university before 1998, will have benefited from free education – including myself.

It is a very serious accusation that has been laid at the doors, not of this Parliament but of those before us, that having benefited from free education paid for by taxation that we should pull up the drawbridge behind us and leave others to pay for their education.

I shall not need to remind Hon Members that Labour, who are now so keenly complaining about an increase in tuition fees, were the party which first broke the compact with our young people and undermined the concept of free higher education for all. That was introduced in 1998, with a higher rate following in 2004. The very fact that the new funding regime is being introduced via Statutory Instrument indicates that this is a continuation of government policy rather a new development.
An education is a right, not a privilege and the benefits which a highly skilled and well-educated population and workforce provide is crucial if we are to maintain our position in the world and continue to develop a knowledge and value economy.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you will have seen my amendment to the motion supported by my Honourable Friend for Brighton Pavilion to end tuition fees, this is because the gains from Higher Education far outweigh the costs.

In Wales, we believe that, with the right support, we can become a small, clever country like our Scandinavian colleagues, delivering a better quality of life for our people.

That is why last week’s announcement by the Welsh Government is to be welcomed, and also shows why it’s important that we have our own Government in Wales. – so that policy can be based on our values as a nation.

It is also why I believe that the electorate of Wales will vote next March to confirm further powers for the National Assembly so that Wales can achieve full political sovereignty over devolved policy fields.

Many of you will not have heard the announcement in detail:

Made by a different Member for Rhondda than we usually hear from in this House, the announcement by the One Wales Government affirms that:
• We do not support full-cost or near full cost fees
• That we do not believe that higher education should be organised on the basis of a market
• That we do not believe that it is sustainable in the long-term for the UK to adopt a policy of having the highest tuition fees for Higher Education in the world outside the USA
In One Wales we in Plaid Cymru committed ourselves to do whatever was possible to mitigate the effects on Welsh-domiciled students if the Westminster government lifted the cap on fees – because we believe that access to Higher Education should be on the basis of academic ability and not on ability to pay.
In other words the increase in fees for Welsh domiciled students, whether they study in Wales or England or Scotland or Northern Ireland will be paid for by the Welsh Government
Welsh domiciled students will continue to be eligible for subsidised loans to meet the cost of fees up to the current level.
The Welsh Government will pay for this by top-slicing the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales teaching grant, but Welsh Higher Education Institutions will still enjoy a higher level of teaching grant support than institutions in England
The UK government is proposing an 80% cut in the university teaching grant in England moving the cost of education nearly completely to the student – the cut in teaching grant in Wales will be 35% – maintaining the vital contribution of public funding.
This is a good deal for Welsh students and a good deal for Welsh universities
In Wales, we remain committed to helping the most disadvantaged access education.
In England they are scrapping Education Maintenance Allowances. Not in Wales.
In England, they are cutting further education funding by 25%. Not in Wales.
In England, they are cutting higher education teaching grant by 80%. Not in Wales.
Students domiciled in England will have to find the full cost of the new fees. Students domiciled in Wales will not.

Mr Deputy Speaker, in the lead up to this debate I have been happy to sign principled amendments on the Order Paper by Liberal Democrat MP who oppose the fees increase as well as tabling my own. I congratulate them on their principled stance. This action however needs to translate into voting against the substantive motion in the name of the Honourable Member for Twickenham.

To those on the government benches who are considering abstaining on that vote, I say that abstaining on this issue would be just as good as voting in favour and I urge them to join us in the lobbies later.

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