A DECISION to kick announcements regarding the future of student finance in Wales made by former Education Minister Huw Lewis appears to have spectacularly backfired following comments made by former minister Julie James during a media interview.
Speaking at a Labour campaign event in Aberdare on Monday, Julie James, a Deputy Minister in the Education and Skills department of the last Welsh Government told BBC Wales: “We’re committed to continuing our current policy until Professor Diamond reports in the autumn.
“And then we’re committed to an evidence-based policy after that, with the commitment that Welsh students will always be better supported than their counterparts elsewhere.”
The Diamond report into Welsh Higher Education was commissioned as long ago as 2013 and a summary of evidence presented in December 2015 made uncomfortable reading for the then Welsh Government.
Speaking to The Herald at the time, Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas, a candidate in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said: “The report (by Professor Sir Ian Diamond) could not be clearer. All of those bodies which responded to it agreed that the current tuition fee policy is completely unsustainable.
“The evidence is overwhelming and unanswerable, but the Welsh Government has decided to wait until October and then probably feign surprise when it is told things have to change. The Welsh Government’s position on tuition fees is dishonest.”
Indeed, every education institution – including the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales – that provided evidence to Professor Diamond said that the Welsh Government’s commitment to its student finance policy – especially tuition fees – was damaging the Welsh higher education sector and was untenable.
On the campaign trail, Labour has been combative on the issue, claiming that only it will maintain the favourable settlement on tuition fees that Welsh undergraduate students have. Leighton Andrews, the former Minister who can always be depended on to stick a spoon in a pot and stir it, has even taken to social media to deride parties who have failed to commit to maintaining an unaffordable and wasteful policy.
Now, Ms James, a former minister who was actually in the Education and Skills ministry when Professor Diamond’ summary of evidence was released has hinted that Welsh Labour’s approach may change ‘depending on what Professor Diamond says’. In particular, Ms James has hinted that the Assembly Learning Grant (currently set at around £5,000) will be targeted by any new Welsh Labour Government as a way of making up the shortfall in subsidising tuition fees for Welsh students.
Ms James suggests that: “There might be nuanced changes.”
Taking the fight to Plaid and the Conservatives on student finance when one of its own candidates and a former minister has now hinted at change and, moreover, claimed that a future Welsh Labour Government’s policy will be determined by a report which it kicked back until after the election, has drawn predictable fire from both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives.
A Welsh Conservative spokesperson told The Herald: “Welsh Labour’s stance on this issue changes from one day to the next which is indicative of a party in complete disarray.
“Welsh Conservatives have long campaigned for a reform of Labour’s unsustainable tuition fee support policy and would introduce ‘Student Rent Rebate’, offering undergraduates timely and sustainable help with university living costs.
“We would further support students in reducing their debt by exploring the viability of fast-track degrees studied over two academic years.”
Responding to a Labour politician’s admission that the current level of support given to university students may be cut, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Education Minister Simon Thomas said: “This is the first sign that Labour politicians are realising that they cannot maintain the fiction of their tuition fee policy as it is.
“Plaid Cymru has always said that the current system is unsustainable and our manifesto has committed to a more sustainable model of funding, whereby students who live and work in Wales within five years of graduating will have £6,000 of their loans written-off, up to £18,000.
“Voters deserve an honest answer about Labour’s plans. Pretending that things won’t change is unsustainable and there will be a huge black hole in Labour’s budget if they don’t explain what they will do with their tuition fee policy.”
Aberystwyth Vice Chancellor pays tribute to community-wide efforts to control COVID-19
ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY’S Vice Chancellor has paid tribute to local organisations and workers for efforts to control cases of COVID-19 in the area.
Marking the anniversary of the initial lockdown, Professor Elizabeth Treasure said that the actions of organisations such as Ceredigion County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board had saved lives and she offered her heartfelt thanks.
Professor Treasure said: “I wanted to take this opportunity to outline my gratitude to those local partners who have worked so hard to combat COVID-19 transmission locally. Their efforts have saved lives over the past months, and we will no doubt need to continue to support them over the coming weeks and months.”
Following the Welsh Government’s decision to allow all students back to university campuses after the Easter break, Professor Treasure thanked the wider community for its support over the course of a difficult year since the start of the pandemic.
Professor Treasure added: “I am very pleased that the Government has decided that students can return for in-person teaching after the Easter break. I have received a great deal of positive feedback about the responsible actions of our students over recent months from other sections of our community.
“We are all helping to make a difference – contributing in our own ways to those life-saving efforts.
“We are fortunate to live in a community which is inclusive and welcoming, and I am so grateful for the wide support for all our work.”
On Monday 15 March 2021 the Welsh Government announced that students could return to universities after Easter for in-person teaching. Further practical details are expected to be released by the Welsh Government over the coming weeks.
As has been the case from the outset of the pandemic, Aberystwyth University is adhering to Welsh Government guidance as it plans for the return of students to Aberystwyth and to a COVID-secure campus.
In addition to initial significant contributions of PPE for healthcare workers, since the start of the pandemic the University has provided locations in Aberystwyth for public COVID-19 testing facilities and a mass vaccination centre.
U-turn on compulsory lifesaving lessons in Welsh secondary education
SCHOOLS in Wales will now teach first aid and lifesaving skills as part of the new curriculum.
Wales will join England and Scotland by introducing first aid and lifesaving kills to their national secondary education curriculum.
Kirsty Williams, Education Minister had previously rejected the calls for emergency resuscitation skills to be compulsory in school.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was introduced in the secondary school curriculum in England in September 2020.
Local authorities in Scotland have also committed to introduce lifesaving skills to their secondary education curriculum.
The British Heart Foundation had backed the campaign for CPR to be taught in schools.
In a long fought battle, Suzy Davies, a Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd for South Wales West, secured the commitment from the Welsh Education Minister in the course of debating amendments to the new Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, which will make sweeping changes to the way Welsh children are educated.
The new curriculum for Wales is planned to come into force from 2022.
Children, parents, families and medics have long argued that regular teaching of CPR in particular will raise our children to have the skills and confidence to step in and save the life of someone in cardiac arrest if they encounter them outside a hospital setting.
The commitment was included in the Welsh Conservative manifesto for the Assembly election in 2016, and Suzy Davies, the Shadow Education Minister, said:
“After 10 years campaigning for this, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen.
“From securing cross-party support for this in my early days as an Assembly Member, through several debates and pitches to different Ministers, on to my own proposed legislation which found favour among Senedd Members, it was difficult to understand why Welsh Government was so resistant.
“In this country, our chances of surviving a cardiac arrest outside hospital are as poor as 10%. In countries around the world where teaching CPR and defibrillator use is compulsory, those odds improve dramatically. These skills are quick and easy to learn and easy to remember.
“ Alun Davies MS – himself a cardiac arrest survivor – has rightly argued that we should be able to learn these skills at any time in our lives and that defibrillators should be a commonplace feature of our public landscape. I couldn’t agree more – but how simple it is to ingrain these skills from an early age and raise generation after generation of lifesavers.”
Under the new curriculum, teachers must follow statutory guidance made by Ministers to support various aspects of the new way of teaching. After changes guaranteed by the Education Minister, this guidance will now instruct teachers that they should teach lifesaving skills and first aid: It is no longer optional.
The mandatory teaching of life saving skills and first aid (not just CPR) has been supported by the medical profession, including paramedics and fire service co-responders, as well as charities like St. John’s Cymru, British Heart Foundation, Calon Defibrillators, Cariad and the Red Cross.
It is taught through many youth groups, including Torfaen Sea Cadets who trained Aneurin Metcalfe, the young man who saved someone’s life only this week.
Styling their way to the top
FOUR hairdressing learners: Holly Mathias, Jenna Kilgallon, Helaina Thomas and Leah Rees, recently earned themselves a place in the next stage of the Concept Hair Magazine Learner of the Year Competition.
The candidates were invited into the College to show their fully presented entries as evidence and then submitted them remotely to the Concept Hair Magazine judges in December.
The categories for the competition were: Festival Hair, Red Carpet, Old School Barbershop, Celebration of Colour and Safari.
The unique styles allowed the learners to show off their creative hair styling skills from plaits to updos, to bold colour creations.
Charlotte Jones, Hairdressing lecturer was over the moon with the learners’ success; “We were all so impressed with the creativity, dedication and enthusiasm of all the students who took part in the competition. Also, the students who supported the entries during the day and the models who gave up their time to be involved. They should all be very proud of what they have achieved. The results were amazing!”
The students worked to COVID regulations ensuring all the correct PPE and procedures were followed.
Finalist, Holly Mathias entered three categories which included; Styling Level 2 – Festival Theme, Hair Up Level 2 – Red Carpet and Avant Garde – Safari.
Holly shared her experience; “Taking part in the Concept Hair competition, has really boosted my confidence and proved that hard work really does pay off. The support from the staff at Pembrokeshire College is outstanding. I would recommend everyone to take part in this competition as not only is it an amazing experience, but it really allows you to think outside the box and be as creative as you can! I would 100% take part in this competition again.”
Holly plans to go into full-time employment when she completes her course and hopes to one day work on cruise ships or even own her own salon.
The next stage involves the candidates submitting photographic entries on the 12th March where six will be shortlisted for the national finals which is set to take place virtually in April.
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