As I am blasting through the English countryside on a rickety old 125 Intercity train, cleverly repainted as the First Great Western service between Cardiff and London Paddington, I thought I would note down my thoughts about the ridiculous nonsense that has been talked about over the last few days, mainly from the English media.

The beautiful and clapped out 125 Intercity train

In Wales, only 15% of the media that we receive on a daily basis is what you would call solely Welsh media, the rest comes from Fleet Street and the grandmasters of the English media system, even Scotland has three daily nationals- the Western Mail has a circulation of circa 34,000; dreadful isn’t it? So imagine my absolute frustration when I picked up the Daily Mail yesterday morning and read the words “tuition fees apartheid” to describe the decision of the Plaid-Labour government to not burden Welsh students with a lifetime’s worth of debt, like the Fib Con Dem government in London are.

 

The Daily Mail’s article is a fine example (I shouldn’t be at all surprised by the tripe they have reported) of this narrow minded approach to devolution, or undecided lack of education towards what a devolved administration is.

 

Over the years, decades and centuries, Wales has contributed more than it’s fair share into that large pot of money in Whitehall that made the United Kingdom a global superpower, through work and toil of slate, coal, steel, copper and tinplate to name but a few. These kind of actions made the UK the global powerhouse that it once was, and to an extent still a financial powerhouse today (or up there and there abouts).

 

But one thing any English (and I stress English not British as that’s what they are) media outlet has to understand is that devolution is here to stay, and that they have to get on with it and respect it. Devolution wasn’t some sort of whimsical policy thought of up by Blair, it was from years of campaigning, two referendums (in both Scotland and Wales) and the sovereignty of the people of those nations deciding that they want devolution. And here we are now, the one time that the English media actually pick up on what happens in the other nations we accused of creating apartheid on a policy issue- apartheid is a disgusting word and the connotations it conjures shouldn’t be used in any way shape or form….but then again this is the Daily Fail.

 

The Welsh Government as well as the Scottish Executive decided to pursue a policy for higher education which would ensure that it’s students are protected from the harsh realities of a lifelong debt, then that’s our decision. People from the Daily Mail and Kelvin Mackenzie are the ignorant type who still feel they have control over the states that exist within a United Kingdom, but get used to life of devolution.

 

The wider UK state doesn’t have that kind of control over Wales anymore. We have dealt harsh blows over the previous months and years including the lack of Barnett reform, no electrification of the Swansea-London line (which leaves on a par with Albania as the only country without any electrified rail in Europe), a cut of £1.8billion to the Welsh budget over the next four years and a Secretary of State who’s not even from a Welsh constituency. But if we decided so spend our budgets (which we earn through tax and are under funded by £300m a year) then on free prescriptions, free bus passes for older people, EMA and a fee remission grant for higher education students, then so be it. I will not apologise for living in a country and supporting a government which defends and looks after the people it needs to in society. What you do in England is your business, just leave us to our own stuff.

When I get back to Wales, I will be purchasing up the entire housing stock in Swansea and Cardiff University areas whilst awaiting the influx of “Welsh residents” with surnames such as Tarquin and Esquire, but until then I am stuck on a slow train on a non-electrified line to London. Oh the irony!

 

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“In other words, the increase in fees for Welsh domiciled students, whether they study in England or Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland, will be paid by the Welsh Assembly Government.

“Welsh domiciled students will not have to find either £6,000 or £9,000 to study.

“The public purse will continue to subsidise higher education for Welsh domiciled students.

“Welsh students who go to university in 2012-13 will be paying the same in real terms as students who go to university in this academic year.”

These are the words of Leighton Andrews AM, Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning from the One Wales Welsh Government. Words that were met with joy and admiration when it hit my ears; words that have made me reach for a cheeky cider at 5pm in the afternoon.

Today’s announcement shows that the Government in Wales values the future generations of students in Wales and the valuable contribution that Welsh students make to society, economy and Welsh life in general. This announcement means the following:

  • That fees for Welsh Higher Education Institutions are able to charge will rise from the current £3300 to £6,000 a year or even £9,000 a year (subject to strict widening access agreements and so forth)
  • Welsh students will only pay the current rate that they are charged, with the additional fee being met by the Welsh Assembly Government in the form of a grant
  • The income payment threshold will rise from £15,000 to £21,000 with a variable rate of interest being charged dependant on income
  • Welsh part time students will be able to access a part time loan up to the value of £3290 per annum

This means that Welsh higher education students wanting to study in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland or England will be able to without having to worry about the additional tuition fee suggest by the ConDem government in England. Yes the Welsh Government will be top slicing the teaching budget, but the money that will be reinvested through the new tuition fee grant and the income from English students should ensure that impacts on university budgets in Wales shouldn’t be damaged too much.

The Welsh Government have to be applauded for their plans and show their commitment to investing in future generations of Welsh people will not only ensure a viable future for those students but also a viable future for Wales. This, along with the plans to keep EMA will ensure that students who decide to pursue academic or vocational routes of education post-GCSE will not have to worry about funding their courses, and will ensure that they receive some sort of financial support throughout their education.

I will not take any argument from any Liberal Democrat or Conservative who dare suggest that this was the Welsh government that scrapped the original tuition fee grant in Wales, effectively introducing top up fees into Wales in 2009. Yes it was possibly a mistake to follow such a move then, but it would smack hypocrisy when the ConDem coalition government want to introduce fees to £9,000 a year- at least this Government is ensuring its future generations won’t have to pay such a fee, and that they can also choose to study where they want, and how they want.

Today shows that Wales can think differently to England and ensure that their future generations are not saddled with decades worth of debt. Today shows that voting Yes in March makes absolute sense, and that voting Yes will give the Welsh government the tools it needs to do the job properly. This government today has shown that it’s mature enough and responsible enough to it’s people to make such decisions- decisions an age old institution like Westminster seemingly can’t make.

One thing is for certain, this is one coalition government that cares about the future generations.

In the immortal words of one teacher, “Don’t make any promises you can’t keep!”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the previous six months, you will surely be aware of the many “concessions” that the Liberal Democrats have had to make in government. I have made no secret of my anger at the utter insult that the concession on tuition fees has been, especially since they have publicly supported an increase to £9000 a year in fees, considering scrapping university fees was one of their mainstay policies.

The notion that they can back track on one of the core aims and belief of the party is unreal, but  I fear there is a bigger implication and consequence at hand as a result of this action by the Liberal Democrats. Many young people voted for the first time in this General Election, whilst many other students gave their vote to the Liberal Democrats in many student areas on the principle of their scrapping of tuition fees; areas such as Cardiff Central and Aberystwyth.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to see Mark Williams and Roger Williams both publicly declaring they will vote against, rather than abstain, on the fees vote in a few weeks. Where is Jenny Willott? An MP who was elected off the back of a substantial student vote in Cardiff Central owes it to those students who elected her to office. I don’t care if she is a PPS to Chris Huhne in his role as Climate Change Secretary, her first job is to represent and answer the people she was elected by. There are rumours about today and yesterday (Saturday) that she will vote against, but I am yet to be convinced that whether this is the case. Until there is a press release from her office stating that she will voting against and not abstaining, then we will have to wait and see.

One of the biggest issues as a result of this though is the way that young people have been treated by Clegg and co. Firstly they turned their back on the pledges they all signed, secondly they claimed that raising fees to £9000 was a fair proposal, then Clegg said he shouldn’t have signed the pledge, and now they have turned around and are claiming that abstaining will make the world happy and smiley once again.

How are young people meant to trust politicians after such shoddy treatment? Young voters are the biggest demographic that don’t vote, and such activity from the Liberal Democrats has further gone to ensure that young people won’t vote again. The attitude of “they are all the same” or “you can’t trust politicians” will forever be etched in the memories of many of these young voters, and they might not vote ever again having received such disrespectful response. Such an approach to politics will in turn be passed onto their children, their children and their children, causing widespread political apathy.

Like many people, I genuinely expected that the inclusion of the Lib Dems to form the the coalition government would have softened the aggressive Tory agenda of cuts and so forth, and hopefully the keeping of the cap after the launch of the Browne Review. How wrong was I and several others? The Liberal Democrats owe it to every voter who gave them a vote to ensure that they vote AGAINST and not abstain on tuition fees, and ensure that a young generation of voters do not feel excluded and disengaged from politics and politicans, and are not lost to the political system forever.