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David Davies: Labour's flawed plan for student finance in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"If ever there was a legislative pig in a poke, this is it.

If this motion is carried today, it may be portrayed as good news, giving us the power to do whatever we wish to do with tuition fees, but the reality is that, despite what the Minister says, our hands will be well and truly tied.

When tuition fees are introduced in England, what choice does the Minister believe we will have?

We will have a couple of options. We could opt not to introduce the fees and not to invest any additional money into universities in Wales. If we do that, then we will quickly see a growing disparity between the standards of Welsh and English universities because the English ones will be in receipt of much greater funding.

Our universities will become second-rate establishments offering lower educational standards, attractive only to those who do not have any money.

In other words, we will be creating the very kind of inequality that New Labour claims to despise, and which it has all too often helped to create. It is not an outcome that the Conservative Party would ever support.

Our next option could be to waive tuition fees in Wales, but to provide the extra money to Welsh universities from our existing budgets.

That would at least have the advantage of ensuring that standards in Wales do not fall behind those in England. However, if we did that, Welsh universities would be deluged with applications from English students, who would, not surprisingly, be absolutely delighted to be able to study in a high-quality institution without having to pay tuition fees.

Who could possibly blame them for that? There are approximately 16 times as many people living in England as in Wales, which I assume means that there are 16 times as many students.

How many Welsh students, therefore, would end up securing places in Welsh universities, when they would have to compete with 16 times as many people from the rest of the UK?

The reality would be that many Welsh students would be forced to go to English institutions, where they would have to pay tuition fees, and yet Welsh taxpayers would still lose out because money would be lost from our health service and other public services in order to put that money back into Welsh universities.

That would be a huge double whammy and another completely unworkable option, as the Minister knows only too well.

The only alternative, therefore, if we rule out not putting extra money into universities, and if we rule out fees, is to follow the English path and introduce the very tuition fees that all of us in the opposition, and one or two Labour Members, it seems, oppose.

We are being given these powers today only to carry out a policy that the majority of us do not support.

What a sad day that is for democracy in Wales, and particularly so for those from the poorest backgrounds who want to study.

They have been betrayed by the Labour Party—a party that was apparently created at the turn of the last century to help the working classes.

There is only one alternative to this provision, and, unfortunately, the powers to allow us to follow that alternative do not exist.

The alternative is to stop filling universities with non-academic students following nebulous courses such as surf studies, which do not lead to jobs.

We must encourage those people instead to study shorter vocational courses. With the money saved as a result, tuition fees could be scrapped and the smaller number of students studying academic courses would be able to do so regardless of family background.

That is the answer to our problems. The solution is not this piece of legislation, but a Conservative Government that will represent the interests of students across the United Kingdom."

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