Diamond Review

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2017 Higher Education Service Group Conference
8 November 2016

Conference notes the Diamond Review in its final set of recommendations attempts to create a long term, financially sustainable model which also preserves Wales’ distinctive approach to Higher Education.

Key proposals include:

A shift from the Tuition Fee Grant towards increased maintenance support.

“The focus of undergraduate support for those studying on a full-time basis therefore moves from the Tuition Fee Grant towards improved maintenance support arrangements for all full-time and part-time undergraduate students with the highest level of grant support covering the full cost of maintenance for those most in need, with income contingent loans to cover tuition fees”.

a)Universities in Wales should be able to charge fees up to £9,000, with top ups from HEFCW for higher cost subjects (for both full time and part time students).

b)All Welsh full-time students studying away from home (outside London) will be eligible for up to £8,100 in maintenance support, on top of a universal grant of £1,000. Means-tested grants will be available for students from the majority of households.

In its evidence to the Diamond Review, UNISON restated our commitment to a free education system funded by general taxation – but said that we welcomed any examination of fairer ways of resourcing Higher Education that takes us closer to this goal.

Conference particularly welcomes proposals to support part-time students. A large proportion of UNISON’s members are from groups that would be deemed as non-traditional for HE purposes. While public debate around higher education overwhelmingly focuses on young people, the importance of life-long learning and opportunities for mature students should not be an afterthought. In its evidence to the Diamond Review, UNISON expressed concern about the falls in the numbers of part-time students, with Wales seeing a fall of 12% in the period of 2010/11 to 2012/13. Our evidence went on to argue that the function, management and funding of adult education should be reconsidered in the light of failure to upskill the workforce or provide lifelong learning opportunities. Relief of the financial barriers and constraints for adult and part-time learners should therefore be a priority.

Conference also welcomes proposals for greater support for students with experience of care, those with disabilities and those who are parents.

Conference believes that the proposals from the Diamond Review focusing on the barriers presented by maintenance support are valuable – there is considerable evidence that poorer students in Wales are already benefiting from current financial support for maintenance and living support.‘The Welsh system, which provides the highest spending power and lowest debt to students from poorer families, also appears to reduce the need to work during term time which reduces the potential disadvantage that these students may otherwise face’ and ‘only 21% of Welsh students say that they will need to work during term time to meet accommodation costs, compared to 32% of English students and 35% of Scottish students.’

Conference therefore believes that this proposal will lower barriers for students from non-traditional and disadvantaged backgrounds and produce a model to be used in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Conference calls on the Higher Education Service Group Executive to:

1)Support UNISON Cymru/Wales’ HE branches to campaign for Welsh Universities to include its’ own staff when developing strategies for widening access and increasing participation from non-traditional backgrounds, as many of our members working in HE do not have higher level qualifications;

2)Support UNISON Cymru/Wales’ HE branches campaign for a sustainable Welsh HE system that is not based on increasing numbers of employees on zero hour contracts or extensive use of agency staff and ensures the living foundation rate of £8.45 per hour is the minimum rate of pay;

3)Lobby Welsh Government to improve the accountability of the Welsh HE sector in respect of Government HE policy objectives, including widening participation.