On Tuesday 5 November NUS Wales lobbied the National Assembly for Wales on the subject of student funding.
The lobby was very successful, and we spoke to Jane Davidson (Education and Lifelong Learning Minister), Mike German (Deputy First Minister), and Helen Mary Jones (Shadow Education and Lifelong Learning Minister), asking a wide range of questions about student support. In addition many members of the lobby met with their Assembly Members, most of whom were happy to sign a statement supporting full implementation of the Rees report and condemning the threat of top-up fees. The problems with the implementation of ALGs were clearly highlighted by the student representatives.
A number of postgraduate students attended, who asked some searching questions of the ministers regarding the inadequacy of the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA). The problems include the extreme length of time and complexity involved in applying, exacerbated by the fact that postgraduate forms are made available later than undergraduate ones. Representatives gave examples of students with disabilities forced to drop out because their DSA did not arrive in time to help them. Jane Davidson, familiar with these problems because they had been drawn to her attention at NUS Spring Conference 2002, was still unable to offer any examples of how the situation has, or may in the future, be improved on this issue.
Another issue raised was that postgraduates are not allowed to apply for Assembly Learning Grants (ALGs). Helen Mary Jones gave some support for this, qualified by saying that it should be offered only if the money is available. Mike German was completely unaware that postgraduates couldn't apply for ALGs, and said that on the principle of equity they should be allowed to. Our enthusiasm was subsequently quashed when it turned out that the Deputy First Minister was in fact contradicting the Assembly Government's policy. Jane Davidson explained that postgraduates could not apply for ALGs because the widening participation agenda has not yet progressed far enough to include postgraduates.
Although the answers weren't always what we wanted to hear, it was good to speak in person to the people who make the decisions. There is clearly much more to do to realise the Assembly Government's vision of the Learning Country and the voice of students must be heard in this process.