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Friday, January 19, 2007

The test of a successful policy

Those of us who have argued for some time that students' choices as to whether they go into higher education or not can be influenced by the existence of fees, the level of fees and the fear of debt are feeling vindicated this morning by this article in the Western Mail.

The paper reports on official figures that show an 11% rise in students from Wales over the past year choosing to study at Welsh universities and colleges. The rise, which comes amid a general decline in UK university admissions, has been attributed to Wales' resistance to top-up fees for homegrown students:

The 2006 statistics, released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), show Welsh student admissions to English universities dropped by 14.1% - from 6,324 to 5,434 - over the previous year, while admissions to Scottish and Northern Irish universities dropped by 28.8% and 42.9% respectively.

A Ucas spokesman said, "There is an apparent relationship between these figures and the funding arrangements in place in Wales, with Welsh students choosing to remain in Wales to study, rather than other parts of the UK."

Throughout the whole of the UK the number of accepted applicants dropped by 3.6% from 405,369 to 390,890 last year.

The rising number of Welsh students accepted at Welsh universities, meanwhile, actually meant Wales' institutions bucked the trend with a 0.4% rise in accepted applicants.

Irrespective of the arguments over whether it is possible that a more favourable regime in Wales will lead to an erosion of key elements of the university experience for Welsh students, such as gaining independence and seeing "other parts of the world", these figures are pretty compelling evidence in support of the argument that tuition fees can actually put people off going into higher education.

Jo Roberts, the NUS Wales women's officer, sums up the case: "The obvious explanation of these figures is that top-up fees have been introduced in universities in England.

"These figures illustrate that top-up fees deter students from applying to university and fly in the face of the Government's Widening Access agenda."

This is a bit of a kick in the teeth for those Vice-Chancellors who envisage £10,000 tuition fees after 2010, and underlines the dangers of their plan in terms of the potential loss of talented students from the higher education system.
I'm just wondering if Cardiff University has "other ideas" about charging top-up fees. It's a member of the Russell Group - if Cardiff is out-financed by other universities in the UK then it's standing in the Russell Group may be undermined.
Yes I can see that. The determining factor here though is what the UK Government decides is the cap on fees and how Wales responds to that. Clearly, if Wales sets its cap lower than England then the Universities will need to be compensated. More likely though is the present situation whereby Wales and England have the same cap and the Assembly subsidises the fees of Welsh students in Welsh HEIs.
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