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Friday, February 13, 2009

Another day, another key Plaid policy abandoned?

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the blogosphere a little spat is developing between two Plaid Cymru Parliamentarians over indications that the nationalists are going to allow Labour to introduce top-up fees for Welsh students.

Adam Price MP writes on his blog: The consultation on Jane Hutt’s controversial plans to introduce ‘top-up’ tuition fees belatedly into Wales ends on Monday. I doubt that my party will make a formal submission but I’m certain that the issue will come up in what will undoubtedly prove an interesting meeting of the party’s National Council on the 21st February. The proposals mirror closely the recommendations of Part One of Merfyn Jones’ review of higher education. But since the remit was written by the Minister you can’t help thinking that the ink on this particular policy was pretty dry some time ago - whatever the results of the consultation. There is much emphasis on the need to ”be alert to the ‘England and Wales’ nature of the HE marketplace and the importance of English students to the Welsh HE sector”. This is not a statement that should sit comfortably with a Government that has Plaid Cymru ministers within it for all kinds of reasons: education is a public service, a public good not a mere ‘product’ to be bought or sold like detergent; universities are public institutions with social, cultural and economic as well as educational purposes; they need to relate to their locality or region and, in our case, nation, not just function as commercial entities in some amorphous England-and-Wales educational landscape.

He prefers to move instead towards a progressive and hypothecated graduate tax payable over twenty or twenty five years, however this idea fails to meet the approval of Bethan Jenkins AM:

The consultation comes to an end on Monday, and I have to say that I am disapointed that we, in Plaid, are not responding to the consultation as I was led to believe from our National Council meeting before Christmas. I was not on the group, and therefore did not have an input in to the discussion. I will now draft a letter and send it in as part of my own individual response as an AM.

Personally, I thought that it would have been an obvious opportunity for us to reaffirm our stance on top-up fees by responding, and our plegdge in 7 4 07 against the introduction of top-up fees in Wales. Adam indicates that there may be a discussion in our National Council on the topic, but there was a discussion in the last National Council which consisted of us agreeing to set up a consultation group to respond. What can we discuss in the National Council that will be guaranteed to be taken on board by the Minister and her officials if we do not provide formal evidence?

She continues: Adam notes on his blog that ’since the remit was written by the Minister you can’t help thinking that the ink on this particular policy was pretty dry some time ago - whatever the results of the consultation’. I’d like to think that this wasn’t the case, and that the Minister will look at all the consultation responses in a neutral capacity, yet as I have said before, the consultation was announced at a time of year when it was very inconvenient for student bodies to respond, and the timeline was not extended to reflect the desire to encourage more input from the wider population, or promoted as such.

Have Plaid Cymru rolled over again and allowed Labour to proceed with another key policy reversal? Clearly, neither Bethan or Adam are happy about it but it does look like their Ministers are prepared to abandon Welsh students to the Westminster agenda on top-up fees so as to maintain their seats in government limousines.

How many more totemic policy positions will Plaid abandon before they wake up and realise that they are being taken for a ride by the Wales Labour Party?

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