Changes to student finance in Wales aren’t as generous as they look

I posted here yesterday on the news that undergraduates in Wales are to see a 9.4 per cent uplift on the total value of their maintenance in 2024.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Given fiscal constraints and potential Barnett consequentials arising from the Westminster government’s miserly increase, I did wonder how Jeremy Miles was paying for that.

We now, a day later, have a partial answer to that question.

In Wales the undergraduate student finance package is linked to the National Minimum Wage. But other aspects of student finance are linked to inflation.

There, as in the English system an OBR projection on inflation is used – usually RPIX for the first quarter of the calendar year following the September that the changes come in, so in this case Q1 2024.

This is a calculation that then applies to:

  • Undergrads that began their courses on or after 1 September 2012 but before 1 August 2018
  • Total available Disabled Student’s Grant
  • Postgraduate loans, both master’s and doctoral

The problem is that whereas in England a projection from the OBR of 2.8 per cent is being used, in Wales a projection of just 1.8 per cent is being used.

Why the discrepancy? Because Wales is using OBR figures from March, while England is using updated OBR figures from November.

I doubt there’s a technical reason why Wales couldn’t have used the more up to date projection – and to omit to mention it in yesterday’s press release makes it look like the Welsh Government is trying to hide robbing disabled students and postgrads to pay undergrads.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said:

Our uplift to undergraduate maintenance support for post-2018 students is based on an increase to loan. Disabled Students Grants are grants, and so the uplift to undergraduate maintenance support – which many disabled students are eligible for – does not affect those grants. Our use of the March RPIX forecast is longstanding policy; in some years, the forecast has been greater than the outturn, although we acknowledges that this is not the case in this period of high inflation in the UK economy. Postgraduate Masters support will increase by 1.8% to a relatively generous £18,770 compared to the proposed loan of £12,167 in England. It continues to include a grant element.

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