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Welsh students get ‘most generous’ finance



Kirsty Williams: Living costs must not be a barrier for students

ALL ELIGIBLE Welsh undergraduate students starting university this year will be able to apply for a new financial support package that will help address living costs.

The first of its kind in the UK, it will support students when they most need it, recognising that costs such as accommodation are the main barrier for those making the choice about whether to go to university.

The new student finance package launched by the Welsh Government is the most generous in the UK and is designed to give more help towards living costs by providing the equivalent to the National Living Wage through a mix of non-repayable grants and loans. This means students can focus on their studies rather than worry about making ends meet.

With National Student Money Week approaching (12-16 February), the Welsh Government has launched an awareness campaign to promote the benefits of university with the help of more financial support available. The campaign features “Money Monster”- a personification of money. The character’s sole purpose is to stop students getting to university, and if they do, to disrupt their student life adding unnecessary pressure.

A key element of the new student finance package is that it offers a stronger package of support for students who want to study part-time, ensuring that undergraduate full-time and part-time students have the same opportunities. Wales will be the first county in Europe to provide equivalent living costs support – in grants and loans – to full-time and part-time undergraduates, as well as post-graduates.

This has been done to encourage students from all backgrounds to enter higher education, whether they’re in full-time work, raising a family or have caring responsibilities. Part-time students will receive equivalent support on a pro-rata basis.

The latest National Income and Expenditure Survey shows that more than one third of Welsh- domiciled students have overdrafts, nearly one fifth have commercial credit and one tenth are in arrears.

The new student finance package for 2018/19 undergraduate entrants addresses these issues by easing financial barriers for students, meaning that full-time and part-time students have enough money to meet their day to day living costs while studying.

Every eligible student can claim a minimum grant of £1,000 they will not have to pay back, regardless of their household income. This is part of an overall mix of grants and loans for living costs equivalent to receiving that National Living Wage, available to every eligible student while they study.

Grants will be means-tested to support those who need them most. Students from homes with lower household income will receive the highest grant – up to £10,124 in London and £8,100 in the rest of the UK. It is likely that around a third of full-time students will be eligible for the full grant. Students who receive a smaller grant can access a loan to top up the amount they receive equivalent to the National Living Wage level.

The average household income for a dependent student in the current system is around £25,000. Under the new system such a student will receive around £7,000 a year in a grant they won’t need to pay back.

The new financial support package for Welsh students was designed following recommendations of a higher education funding review led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond. Living costs were found to be the main barrier for those making the choice about whether to go to university.

The latest figures from Welsh Government show that students in Wales spent 46% of their student income on their course and 37% on living. Housing came in at 18%.

Wales’s Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams said: “Money is clearly a very important factor when deciding when to go to university, and for those who are already studying, money is found to be a major cause for stress.

“With this in mind, we have designed a new package of support to alleviate these concerns that both parents and students share. This will allow students to focus on their studies without having to worry about how they are going to afford their day to day living costs.

“The support that Welsh students, studying anywhere in the UK, can apply for is now equivalent to the National Living Wage. In addition, most students will have no upfront costs to pay as a tuition fee loan can be taken out to cover their course.

“It is important to remember that student loans are only repayable when borrowers’ earn more than £25,000 per year. Repayments can start from as little as £30 a month.

“Living costs must not be a barrier to going to university. I want everyone who has the talent, potential and ambition to have that opportunity. Whether it’s studying full-time or combining it with your career and studying part-time, university should be an option for everyone, no matter what your background or income.”


Flying Start needs ‘significant change’



'Postcode Lottery': Some children in poverty are excluded from support

A SIGNIFICANT change is needed if the flagship Flying Start early years programme is to succeed in reaching out to those in most need of support, according to a cross-party Assembly committee.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee found that more flexibility is needed so that funding can be used to help children who live outside existing Flying Start areas.

The Flying Start programme provides services to children under the age of four in some of Wales’ most deprived postcode areas. It is cited as one of the Welsh Government’s top priorities in tackling child poverty, and has four key elements: free part-time childcare for two to three-year-olds; an enhanced health visiting service; access to parenting support; and access to early language development support. However, with nearly two thirds of people who are income deprived living outside geographical areas that are defined as deprived, the Committee heard that a significant number of children living in poverty were likely to be excluded from Flying Start support.

While the Committee welcomes recent changes which will give councils more opportunities to help children outside Flying Start postcode areas, more flexibility is needed to make sure that those most in need are supported.

The Committee was pleased to hear anecdotal evidence from users and front line service providers about the benefits of Flying Start. However, in light of the fact that the Welsh Government has provided funding of more than £600 million to Flying Start since its creation in 2007, it is concerned that there is limited hard evidence at this stage to show that children and parents supported by the programme have experienced improved outcomes.

Lynne Neagle, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, said: “We welcome the hard work of those delivering Flying Start services across Wales. Nevertheless, with the majority of children living in poverty falling outside defined Flying Start areas, we believe that more flexibility is needed to allow the programme to reach those most in need.

“We also believe that more needs to be done to demonstrate the benefits of the programme, and we welcome the Welsh Government’s assurances that it is looking at different ways to show the direct improvements Flying Start is making to the lives of children and families in Wales. We will monitor this work closely, and believe it to be particularly important given the large amount of money invested in this programme annually, with just under £80 million allocated in this financial year alone.”

Commenting on the report, Shadow Education Secretary, Darren Millar, said: “We’ve been saying for a long time that Flying Start simply isn’t working for the overwhelming majority of families in need of support.

“The Welsh Government must put an end to the Flying Start postcode lottery which excludes families in need simply on the basis of their address.

“The programme needs radical reform to make it more flexible and Wales-wide so that local Councils can deliver help and support to those who need it most.”

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Talks call in lecturers’ strike



Pensions dispute: Lecturers plan four weeks of action

UNIVERSITIES UK has called University and College Union (UCU) to meet to engage in ‘serious, meaningful’ talks on the future of the USS pension scheme.

A strike by UCU members in the week ​of February 19-23 was only the first of a planned four weeks of industrial action as employers and lecturers battle out a dispute over the future shape of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Universities UK claims that the current scheme – the largest funded scheme in the UK – is unaffordable and that a projected £6.1bn deficit means that retirement benefits have to be cut. The union claims that the deficit is overstated and that, having already eroded some pension rights, further cuts to it are unfair.

In a press statement which accompanied an open letter to UCU members, Universities UK said: ​”​It is of paramount importance that both side make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disrupton to students.

​”​Universities UK has never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution. We would be willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing.

​”​The problem that we share as interested parties in USS is that, to continue to offer current benefits, contributions would have to rise by approximately £1 billion per annum. The scheme has a £6.1 billion deficit and there has been an increase of more than a third in the cost of future pensions.​”​

Responding to that statement, UCU said it would certainly be attending as it had been calling for talks for weeks, but refused to call of scheduled industrial action.

However, it said that unless the employers were prepared to talk about the January decision to slash pensions then it did not see how the dispute could be resolved. In its statement UUK said ​’​talks would not re-open the Joint Negotiating Committee decision made on 23 January​’​.

That decision is the very reason staff are on strike.

UCU said it was disappointed UUK had ignored the wishes of universities minister Sam Gyimah who stated explicitly that the talks should be without preconditions.

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: ​”​Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend. I am however very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.

​”​The universities minister was very clear that he wanted talks without preconditions and we hope UUK will reconsider his words before we meet. We remain committed to serious negotiations aimed at resolving this dispute.​”​

Universities UK’s position is not assisted by the long-running dissatisfaction with some of the extraordinary pay packages its members dole out to some university vice chancellors.

University vice-chancellors have enjoyed huge pay rises in recent years. The average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005/06 was £165,105. Over the next decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16.

Professor Peter Mathieson, recently appointed as vice Chancellor of Edinburgh University, will be paid a basic salary of £342,000 – £85,000 more than predecessor Sir Timothy O’Shea. Professor Mathieson will also receive £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions and relocation costs of £26,000, taking his package up to £410,000. He will live in a five-bedroom grace-and-favour home in central Edinburgh.

Professor Mathieson quit his contentious and controversial tenure as vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University to take the Edinburgh post.

Stuck in the middle of the dispute between lecturers and universities are students.

The programme of strikes is taking place at one of the most sensitive times of the year for higher education students, with many final year students rapidly approaching the end of their courses. A suggestion has been made that some universities will take account of disruption to studies when making degree awards, In addition, while many students sympathise with their lecturers’ predicament there is growing frustration among those who are likely to be most severely affected by strikes that will last 14 days initially, with the possibility of further action during summer final exams.

Some students are contemplating demanding compensation, with The Guardian quoting one saying: “I am a third-year student in his last term of university and the fact that my vice-chancellor has told me that I could be without any assistance for a whole 14 days over four weeks in my most important term of education is a joke.”

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New lease of life for rescue dog



Duke the dog: Complete with 3D printed leg

A DOG that could hardly walk has been given a new lease of life after a 3D printed leg was made for him by CBM, a research company established by UWTSD.

Rescue dog Duke, an Irish retriever, was born with a birth defect in his front right leg and faced having it amputated.

But he is now running around after Swansea printing firm CBM made him a leg similar to blades used by Paralympians.

New owner Phil Brown, from Bristol, said it had been ​’​life changing​’​.

When Duke was found abandoned by the Irish Retriever Rescue (IRR) charity in Ireland in 2016, his paw was deformed and he could not walk on all fours.

He was taken to the pound and rehomed with foster owners the Browns, who have since adopted him as their own as they could not bear to part with the loveable pooch.

After a massive fundraising campaign by the charity Duke has been fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthetic by CBM, after narrowly avoiding having his foot amputated.

His new owner said Duke, who is now three, was delighted by his new ​’​super leg​’​ which meant he was walking on four paws for the first time.

Mr Brown, who owns other dogs which Duke is enjoying playing with, said: “He had a very tough start in life.

“This is an absolute life changer for him, it really is. He can now walk on it, he can now run at a slow speed.”

Mr Brown said the three-dimensional leg was about a year in a making, and a few months down the line Duke is getting so much use out of it he has already had to have it refurbished.

The leg was entirely printed out of a machine apart from a rubber foot, some Velcro and foam at the top to make it more comfortable for Duke.

CBM product designer Benjamin Alport said creating Duke’s leg was a real challenge for the team, who worked with his new owner and a consultant orthopaedic surgeon on the design.

“We had to go down and assess Duke. We had to consider right down to the thickness of the hairs because you have to take into account the smallest things,” he said.

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