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Think tank wants WAG to cut its uni top-up bill.

A GROUP set up to review university funding has recommended that the Welsh Assembly Government no longer picks up the bill for students' top-up fees.

Welsh students studying in Walespaypounds 1,200 in fees-rather than pounds 3,000 for students from other parts of the UK- at a total cost to the taxpayer of pounds 61m a year.

But a task and finish group, headed by the vice-chancellor of Bangor University, Professor Merfyn Jones, is understood to have recommended to Education Minister Jane Hutt that WAG stops paying the difference.

Instead it is proposing a targeted system, linked to family income, which would be launched from2011.

The review team which was set up in June to consider the issue has reportedly also proposed that as part of the shake-up, WAG would instead provide cash to help students whose families are on the lowest incomes.

The report, which has been leaked before being formally made public, suggests an increase in the Assembly Learning Grant (ALG) for the most disadvantaged students. This could mean giving pounds 5-6,000 directly to them and letting them choose whether to pay tuition fees up front in full, or to use the money as a living allowance throughout the year.

This outcome could lead to the pounds 1,890 currently given to all Welsh students studying in Wales being scrapped.

The group also wants the threshold where students have to start repaying their loans increased from the current pounds 15,000 up to between pounds 18,000 and pounds 20,000.

Ken Richards, an academic economist who was a member of the two Rees Review panels into funding of higher education, said: "Speaking from own personal opinion rather than as a member of the Rees Review panel, I welcome these recommendations.

"I believe it is the best solution in terms of social justice. But it can take a long time for that view to filter through."

The One Wales coalition document commits the Assembly Government to keeping current spending levels in place until the end of the 2009-10 academic term.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: "Professor Merfyn Jones, last week submitted to the Education Minister his final report on this first stage of the Review of Higher Education in Wales.

"The Minister will now consider this very important piece of work in the coming weeks in consultation with her Cabinet colleagues and will formally respond in November."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 9, 2008
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