The Welsh Liberal Democrat’s 2016 manifesto recognised that living costs, not tuition fees, were the biggest barrier to people going to university. It pledged a ‘Student Living Support Grant’ for all Welsh domiciled pupils.
The Progressive Agreement said that:
“The recommendations of the Diamond Review are considered, with a view to early implementation where appropriate, but there will be no negative effect on the higher education budget if there are any changes.”
In September 2016 the recommendations of the Diamond Review were published, proposing a shift to helping students manage their term-time living costs. Students would be entitled to a grant ranging from £1,000-£9,113 a year, depending on family income. The tuition fee grant would be scrapped, with students taking out a loan instead. This shift in approach recognised “the holistic costs of higher education study to students, namely fees and maintenance”.
In November 2016 Kirsty Williams backed the recommendations, which amounted to the “biggest change to student finance in Wales in a generation.” Announcing the changes Kirsty said “if you want to go to university, this system will allow you to do so. Academic ability should determine whether you go to university, not your social background.”
A consultation on the implementation of these recommendations was launched, and in July 2017 Kirsty made a statement in the Welsh Assembly confirming that from 2018/19 students would benefit from the new system – receiving the equivalent of the National Living Wage while they study.
Wales will also become the first country in Europe to introduce equivalent maintenance support across full-time and part-time undergraduates, as well as post-graduates.