Sunday, 25 July 2010

Fairness for Graduates

Officer without Portfolio on CymruX's National Executive Committee

"I guess the main thing I want to look at in my blog space this week, is an e-petition that I’ve set up on CymruX’s behalf, which calls on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to resist some rather unfair plans proposed by the Russell Group of Universities – including Cardiff – to change the student loan repayment system.

Those with an interest in further education will know that the Browne Review, led by John, Lord Browne, is to report on higher education funding and student finance, this year, and that the Russell Group, a group of 20 elite universities (elite in a good way) throughout the UK, have submitted some proposals, which call (a) to lift the cap on fees, meaning that students could be forced to pay up to £7,000 in England (and of course, when English fees go up, it’s very likely that Welsh fees will do the same); (b) to change the loan repayment system, so that students pay back more money at a time, and when they’re earning less. As the situation stands, graduates start to pay back their loans when they reach £15,000 salary, but the interest rates are fluctuant. The group’s plans would see students paying back at a higher interest rate, and at a lower income level. This clearly isn’t fair, especially when the ConDem government is planning a “graduate tax” and education is expensive enough as it is.

With regard to the graduate tax, I am on the fence. If – and only if – it replaces fees, then of course, I’d rather pay a higher rate of tax than have to spend thousands of pounds on education which should, in all honesty, be free. However, if the grad tax comes on top of higher fees and unfair changes to the loan system, then clearly, prospective students from “working- and lower-class” backgrounds will be priced out of higher education.

It is my view, and the view of both CymruX and Plaid Cymru, that in the current economic climate, higher education should be invested in. We are at a crossroads in terms of where we can take our economy from here. Well, more of a junction than a crossroads, but you get my drift. We can either go back the same old way, let the banking sector and the South East of England run riot; or, we can develop a green, technological economy, one focused on need, one focused on sustainability, one focused on the modern world, and living responsibly, where every individual has the chance to flourish, be that through work-based training, being a valued part of the workforce, or going into higher education. Only with investment in higher education can the latter be a viable option.

In some respects, I can understand the difficulty that the Russell Group is facing. It’s facing huge pressure from the ConDem government, (and be under no illusion that New Labour was any better), and it has to adapt. The group has to keep up its reputation for being the leading research-based universities in the UK, but I would rather see the Russell Group working for its students and prospective students, campaigning and fighting against government plans to cut its funding, not simply give in and force the Tories’ elitist (in a bad way) principles on its students.

A similar petition, organised by new Northern Ireland Assembly Member for the SDLP, representing South Belfast, Conall McDevitt MLA, has already been submitted to the Northern Ireland Assembly for consideration. This petition, of which I am principle petitioner, but am really just a link, a liaison, between CymruX and the National Assembly, will close a week before the Petitions’ Committee sits for the first time in the Autumn Term. In 3 days, we have 67 signatories, but there’s a long way to go. Please do sign the petition, and pass it on to your family, your friends, your colleagues, your AMs and MPs (Plaid or otherwise), your student contacts, your old teachers, your neighbours, to sign. Whoever. Plaid Cymru’s constitution lists as one of the party’s objectives, “To ensure economic prosperity, social justice…based on decentralist socialism”. Anyone who believes in these principles, and cannot see sanity in those held by what are now the Libservatives, should sign the petition. After all, how could anyone who gives two hoots for students, graduates and the future of our country and the UK, support a government, a minister of whose, says that students are a burden on the taxpayer? Students, and graduates deserve better, and I am proud to say that CymruX is standing up for them."

Link to the petition:

O.N. Daw'r fersiwn Gymraeg cyn hir!

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