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Jones: Education should not have a price tag in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"Whether we have the power to decide on top-up fees or not, our hands will be tied.

The only way that the people of Wales will have the education that they deserve, regardless of their background, is by voting in a Conservative Government next year, which will abolish tuition fees.

Having graduated in 2000, I was lucky enough to miss tuition fees. However, I speak to many friends that have just left university with debts of between £12,000 and £15,000. This is not the way for young people to start the rest of their lives.

This Assembly Government has ruled out top-up fees only until the Assembly election in 2007, which suggests that the door is wide open for top-up fees in Wales.

I shudder to think that this could leave future graduates with debts of up to £30,000. This Government is always keen to harp on about equal access to universities for all. However, it is naive to suggest that introducing top-up fees will not put young people off university education.

A recent report suggests that changes to university admissions will do little to help the poor of Wales.

With debts as an issue, many people now feel that a university education is out of their reach, and God knows what they will think after 2007.

Therefore, is this Assembly Government concerned that young people may be deterred from further education?

Is it concerned by warnings that top-up fees could lead to a drop in students studying certain subjects, such as science?

The cost of top-up fees could introduce significant disincentives against studying science, engineering and technology at university.

It could create an incentive for institutions not to provide the most expensive courses.

Since the 1990s there has been a downward trend in science graduates in subjects such as physics, biology, medicine, chemistry and engineering.

Science courses are naturally more expensive to run, and top-up fees would only exacerbate the problem of lowering the number of science graduates that carry on to be doctors, medical researchers and so on. The spill-over effect of this would be disastrous for Wales.

The absence of tuition fees could make Wales more attractive for undergraduates, especially for science courses, which could help the problem of the Welsh brain-drain.

In light of this, variable tuition fees are, in principle, wrong on many different levels. If the Assembly Government has any thought for the future of Welsh education and the future of Wales as a nation, it will not introduce top-up fees in three years' time in any form. Education should not come with a price tag."

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