Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The value of devolution - fairness for students

Cerith Rhys Jones (Executive Non-Portfolio Officer and Public Rep) writes:

"Today’s announcement from the Labour-Plaid Cymru Welsh Assembly Government regarding tuition fees comes as what can only be described as a relief for students and prospective students like myself especially. One Wales has shown the value of devolution this afternoon, in declaring that Welsh students will not have to pay any more than £3,290 a year for their Higher Education – wherever they study in the UK.

"Students who are currently in University and who will go to University next year will not be affected by the announcement, meaning that they will still pay £3,290, but today’s news will affect 2012/13 students who would otherwise have to pay upwards of £6,000 for their HE – thanks very much to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in London.

"This move from WAG really does show our commitment to HE here in Wales, and more than that: that we believe in our young people and believe that they don’t deserve such extortionate costs. Supporters of the ConDems’ plans ask why it matters – we don’t repay until after graduation anyway! Let me tell you: if I went into Uni knowing that I would leave with £30,000 or £40,000 worth of debt, I really would question whether it’s worth it.

It is.

"The difference between Cardiff Bay and Westminster is that we here in Wales have made the right decision to make it possible for students and prospective students to what is right for them in the long-run.

'We have a responsibility to Welsh-domiciled students, wherever they choose to study. We also have a responsibility to ensure that Wales benefits, economically, socially and culturally, from the investment that the Assembly Government makes in higher education in Wales.'

"That’s what our Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM had to say today. He’s darned right. A strong and accessible HE sector will benefit our country in more ways than simply meaning that more people can afford to go to Uni. What Wales needs is a strong, forward-looking and innovative economy, and a good HE sector will stand us in good stead for achieving that.

"Plaid is proud of its socialist principles and so am I. I am proud to be a citizen of a country whose government cares; whose government recognises its responsibility to ensure that education is indeed a right and not a privilege.

"Of course, on that note, we’re not quite there, but CymruX is committed to fighting for free HE because we believe that a cost of even £3,290 shouldn’t stop anyone from going to University. (Naturally, if cuts weren’t coming from every angle thanks to David and Co. that’d be a rather more realistic aim.)

"For now though, we are happy with the best that’s on offer: fairness. Something that Wales can offer, and the ConDems seem not yet to have grasped. Will they ever? Doubt it.

Diolch, Leighton, a diolch, Llywodraeth Cymru.
Thank you, Leighton, and thank you, Welsh Government.

To read the Welsh Assembly Government’s statement on-line, go to the Welsh Assembly Government's website.

And remember that you can now follow @yesforwales and @iedrosgymru on Twitter, as well as add a Yes4Wales badge to your Twitter and Facebook avatars. More powers for Wales next March combined with a successful election for us means more fairness and indeed more actions like today’s!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The trials and tribulations of S4/C continue...

Cerith Rhys Jones, CymruX Non-Portfolio Officer writes:

"S4/C is having a tough time of it, of that there is no doubt. We all know about the cuts that are coming to it, and the fact that its independence is in jeopardy; and now, its former Chief Executive, Iona Jones, has filed notice to take the broadcaster to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal, after her sudden departure earlier this year.

"Let me first clarify my position on the broadcaster’s funding. From where I stand as a Welsh-speaking Welshman, having a Welsh-medium public service broadcaster is essential to the future of the Language, and the Language is a fundamental cornerstone of our Nation’s culture. Unfortunately, the Welsh language is still seen by many people as something for the ‘crachach,’ and that it isn’t a ‘real’ language. Of course, the role that S4/C plays in all of this is the normalisation of the Language and showing that she is still alive, and is still growing. With huge cuts coming its way, S4/C will find it even harder to do its job. The Coalition in London has shown a breath-taking lack of respect for our People and our Language in dropping the axe square on our national broadcaster’s head, and adds insult to injury by transferring S4/C funding to the BBC. When we as a Party are calling for broadcasting to be devolved to Cardiff Bay, the Con-Dems seem to want to bring more responsibility back to London. Dim diolch. Funding S4/C directly from the BBC will only lead to more pressure being put on the broadcaster to have English-language programmes, and will, in my view, lead to the broadcaster’s decline (or at least, the broadcaster as we know it.)

"But do we want an S4/C which broadcasts in English? Some may want that. I don’t. All those years ago when Gwynfor did what we did so that we could have a channel of our own, the purpose of it was not for it to be a bit of this and a bit of that – a mish-mash of Welsh and English; S4/C is a Welsh-language broadcaster.

"As much as I support S4/C and totally condemn (get it?) the Con-Dems’ actions, S4/C really does desperately need to have a sit down and get its act together. It’s just not good enough for many of its programmes to have been rated as having zero viewers. It isn't good enough for the S4/C Authority to announce the resignation of its Chair, only for the Chair himself to announce separately that he would stay on until spring 2011. It isn’t good enough for the circumstances surrounding Iona Jones’ departure (or is the word ‘dismissal’ more appropriate?) to be totally hushed up (and supposedly never to be spoken of again).

"We recently saw how excellent S4/C can be with Pen Talar, the 9-part series following a set of people from before Gwynfor’s election up to the modern day where we have our National Assembly. We need more of this! I sat down with my non-Welsh-speaking mother to watch Pen Talar every Sunday night for over two months, and it really did showcase what S4/C can be. After the series finished however, we’re back to the same old programmes which, quite frankly, don’t draw new viewers in.

"My message to all concerned, including Jeremy Hunt at DCMS, and at the S4/C Authority: ‘For God’s sake, wise up. The future of our Language could very well be in your hands.’

"And so the trials and tribulations (Chief Exec-orientated play on words, there) continue…"

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The debt generation

Posted by Lleu Williams, Non-Portfolio Officer

"We will vote against any lifting of the tuition fee cap, and campaign to get rid of tuition fees" were the importal words of the Clegg posse, aka the Liberal Democrats in the lead up to the General Election, the wording on pledges that every single on of their MPs signed and one of their parties mainstay policies. It is actually making me laugh reading about that now to be honest, as myself, like many other young people genuinely believed that this would be the case when coalition discussions were taking place.

Where are we now? The Browne Review has reported back suggesting lifting the cap on tuition fees and creating a marketisation of the higher education sector in England, and since then the ConDems have put forward proposals for tuition fees to be capped at £9000 a year.

There have been protests up and down the country yesterday, including walkouts and occupations right across Wales. This has been a great success in highlighting the issue within the media, as well as with the general public. I do not condone the small spates of violence that have taken place, but in the majority yesterday, as with the NUS Demo two weeks ago, young and old have been out on the streets voicing their concerns over proposals that will ensure that the next higher education generation will certainly be the debt generation.

I do not take for one minute the ConDems justification that their new proposals are fairer. Yes, the pay back threshold has been increased to £21,000 (a level it should be at anyway) and that the proposals make HE more attractive to part time students are to be welcomed, but how dare they suggest that the debt of £27,000 for a degree will not put off those who are from the poorest backgrounds in our society. For many of these people, their household incomes are not even that much and I don't think they could even comprehend putting themselves into that much debt, I know I couldn't!

And Mr Willetts, the Universities Minister, said that people from the poorest backgrounds won't have to pay it back until they earn at least the new suggested threshold, is he saying then that people from these backgrounds can't or shouldn't be earning more than £21,000 and thus aspiring to lift themselves out of poverty?

In addition to that, we have seen standard Tory procedure of backing their own kind by not asking for any contribution from business. Society, the individual, the economy and business reap the benefits of a world class higher education system, why aren't business asked to contribute their fair share into funding the system? They certainly aren't doing their bit by increasing the number of graduate jobs in the market at the moment....or even better, how about actually increasing the pitifully small banking levy of £2 billion to something much more substantial such as the £8 billion in bonuses this year and thus reinvesting a proportion of that funding back into teaching budgets, thus alleviating the cost onto the student? But the cyncial side of me says this would be too harsh on their friends high up in the world of business, cheers Cameron!

I am over £13,000 in debt, and I don't think I will ever clear it myself- something the government will do for me when I am 60 anyway. But the government are suggesting any debt that is left after 30 years of repayment will be wiped, I dread to think how much this will cost the government in 30 years time and create a potentially huge vaccum in the coffers at Westminster.

Here in Wales, we are lucky to have the National Assembly to shield us from such volatile and socially destroying proposals. Teaching budgets in England have been cut by 80% (forcing the plug in funding to be met by the student) whilst in Wales they have only been cut by 12%, which will hopefully mean any changes will be minimal.

But what is real is that young people will be put off by this debt, I know I would have been. It's time for the ConDems to sit up and listen to the majority here and not condem the next generation as the the debt generation.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Student Protests Nov 23rd: Defend Our Education!

Across the UK students and lecturers

are today participating in different forms

of protests in opposition to the proposed

changes to the education system.

Over 20,000 students will take part in

numerous peaceful protests much like the one being staged in Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth University is working with local schools to stage a mass student march through the town centre, and are planning a “sit out” in which students of the university walk out of classes and study sessions to do their work in public spaces. Although the Welsh Assembly Government is yet to announce its plans for the future of education in Wales, protesters in Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Swansea all fear the negative impact of London’s decisions for England on those of the Welsh Parliament. University fees will inevitably rise in light of the increase in England and students hope that staging protests against Westminster’s proposals will prevent such a sharp incline of fees in Wales.

Heralded as a “national day of action”, today highlights the solidarity amongst students of all ages who are determined to fight the government’s proposals to cut EMA, increase tuition fees and cut education budgets.

The honourable plight of students, who fiercely want to defend the education system from Con-Dem attacks, is underpinned by the fear that swingeing cuts to university budgets, and the possible tripling of tuition fees to £9000 a year in some cases, will mean the end of affordable and fair higher education. In light of government plans to remove funding for arts and humanities subjects students fear that government reforms will transform the education system into one which merely invests in individuals seeking power, rather than in society’s future as a whole. These concerns mirror those that suggest education will no longer be valued in it or as a way of enriching culture, but rather solely as a means of career based training.

The concerns that increases in fees will mean university becomes an establishment of societies privileged, thus entrenching poverty, alienation and inequality, are not to be taken lightly and certainly raise serious issues when considering the proposed cuts. However is it possible to identify a silver lining to this grey, fatalistic cloud? The fear that the proposed cuts will prevent those from less wealthy backgrounds from attending university and in this sense universities will become exclusive and favourist. In this time of financial crisis and necessary hard-line decision making for the British government is it really as inappropriate as it may initially seem to suggest that the tax payer should only subsidise courses from which they may all benefit in the future such as medicine and engineering? The ConDem government’s current proposal to continue to provide state subsidies to so called “core” subjects such as law, medicine, engineering and some areas of business, but not to subjects of a humanitarian or arts orientation, is based on this logic and in times of such financial crisis some may argue is an unfortunate but necessary compromise.

However, attempts to challenge the assumed fatality of the impending cuts are flouted when considering the context within which today’s cuts are being made, with the current job market only intensifying the severity of the education reforms. How else are students to feel other than fatalistic about the future when they are given no options of how to improve it? An imminent increase in job cuts and reforms of the welfare state alongside the changes to the education system leave many students feeling they have no job prospects and no chance of furthering their education and thus no future. The cuts in education are extreme in failing to provide any alternative for young people the Con Dems have left students with no choices and no hope.

Written by Plaid Cymru Intern

Bex Llewhellin

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Whilst Camerons away.........

An estimated 2000 students from Wales have today travelled to London to join fellow peers, lecturers and the general public protesting in response to the unjustly tuition fee increases the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition proposed in October this year. Reports of riots and violent scenes within Central London have occurred, with some students turning to the Conservative headquarters to make a symbolic stance against the cuts; burning banners and fighting police officers. Although NUS have stated that they are disappointed with these violent acts, the organised event has been one of the biggest in British history with around 50,000 participants joining. Those who joined the demonstration peacefully aimed to send a message to Westminster.

For many welsh students who may be disillusioned with politics, these coalition cuts are not helping the younger generation feel they can engage in politics. Their needs and wants are being distanced with uncertain futures and broken promises by many politicians, especially those of the Lib Dems who promised scrapping fees altogether in their recent manifesto pledges.

Even though the exact price tag on higher education for Welsh students has not been revealed, those seeking to study in England could be faced with debt up to £40,000.00 which will inevitably impact on the price of tutition fees in Wales. For most, this cost is simply unaffordable, creating an unfair two tier society which could increase further the inequality gap in Wales for years to come. With higher education being cut by about 40% there is uncertainty about the future spending on welsh universities with the possibilities of public spending being hit and university departmental budgets being slashed. The future performance of welsh universities is unknown with the possibility of standards falling across Wales as a result.

For Plaid Cymru the disappointment in the increase of tuition fees is apparent with us striving to create a fair and equal society in Wales which Westminster is increasingly making difficult for us to achieve.Plaid Cymru have made a clear alliance with NUS and SNP on the dissatisfaction of the Browne Proposals and have sent a letter to the business Secretary Vice Cable showing a united front between these nations. Those in the Liberal Democrat party who are intending to abstain from voting in these radical changes,should be ashamed of themselves because merely abstaining the vote will mean the proposal will go through anyway. If all the Fib Dem MP’s vote against tuition fee’s then it wouldn’t go through,