Welsh Government makes policy u-turn over FCF

IT HAS BEEN announced today [12th] by Education Minister Huw Lewis that the Welsh Government has overturned its decision to scrap the Financial Contingency Fund (FCF). The fund has been restored for the upcoming academic year only.

Last month, the Welsh Government revealed that FCF would be scrapped and that universities would have to come up with alternatives on their own. The Government has decided to bring back FCF for the upcoming academic year, with the intention that Universities should come up with their own discretionary funds for following academic years.

Huw Lewis, Welsh Government Minister for Education

Huw Lewis, Welsh Government Minister for Education

Welsh Government Minister for Education and Skills Huw Lewis said:

“I am proud of the support the Welsh Government has provided to students and to further and higher education institutions in Wales.

”Unfortunately cuts imposed on us by Whitehall have meant we have had to take some very difficult decisions on education support this year.

“We strongly believe Welsh universities should be using their own substantial income to support their vulnerable students. That said we have listened to stakeholders, and we have decided to reinstate the Fund for this year only.

“I think it is appropriate that from academic year 2015-16 universities should establish their own discretionary hardship funds, and we will be discussing options with students and institutions.

“Higher education student support in Wales is still the most generous package offered by any of the UK administrations, but it is now time for individual institutions to assist with some of the heavy lifting.”

Beth Button, NUS Wales President said:

“It is welcome that the Welsh Government has now responded to the strength and depth of student feeling, reversed its position and pledged to protect the fund for the coming year.

“This hardship fund has been a vital lifeline of support for students, and the decision to scrap it just weeks before the start of the academic term risked leaving many in dire financial straits.

“It is to ministers’ credit that when they realised that their initial decision was wrong, took speedy action to correct it and put money back in the pockets of students who need it in order to continue to study.

“The strength of feeling since last month’s announcement, particularly from those who could not have stayed the course without it, shows why hardship funds are vital and must be protected, not just next year, but in the long term too if we are to have a fair and sustainable higher education system in Wales.

“We will continue to work with the Welsh government to make sure that this essential fund is secured for the future.”

The fund, totalling over £2 million, supported over 5,000 students last year and gave assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The fund provided help if a student had high additional costs that were not covered by funding, were in an unexpected financial crisis, were at risk of dropping out due to financial problems or if they had budgeted badly and needed to get back on track.

Aberystwyth University released this statement:

“The University welcomes the reinstatement of the Financial Contingency Fund for the new academic year. We appreciate the need to take difficult decisions in challenging times, but we are pleased that a way has been found to maintain this important source of funding for students in need.”

Aberystwyth Students’ Union has released a statement that they are “thrilled” with the decision. They state that:

“Their decision on the 21st of August to withdraw the Fund with immediate effect was unprofessional and careless”

“We will continue to work with NUS Wales and relevant bodies to lobby the Welsh Government to continue to allocate this well needed funding to Universities for the future.”

Welfare Officer, Will Atkinson adds:

“We are extremely pleased that the Welsh Government has listened to the detailed arguments for saving FCF given to them by NUS Wales and Students’ Unions from across Wales. The Fund is a key tool in allowing access to Higher Education for individuals from less privileged backgrounds. It is also an extremely cost effective fund, costing less per year than the potential loss of revenue due to students leaving universities. For this announcement to come on the same day as the UK Government saving Disabled Students Allowance is proof that the student voice is gaining strength.”

Elin Jones, local AM for Ceredigion, said:

“This is great news for students and universities, and congratulations to NUS Wales and the students’ unions on local campuses for leading this campaign. It’s clear from meeting students over the past couple of weeks that the axing of this fund – and the terrible timing of the announcement just before the start of the academic year – was very bad news for the most vulnerable students.

“I will still be pressing the Minister to make more than a one-year commitment to retaining this fund for the longer term.

“The effect of any cut to the Fund on universities in Ceredigion would be particularly acute, as there are fewer part-time jobs available to supplement students’ incomes, and the fact that many students from vulnerable backgrounds chose to come here for the safe, welcoming environment that our campuses offer.”