Politicians have voted to “give hope and opportunity” to hundreds of the island’s young people, unanimously approving plans to fully fund the majority of university tuition after years of intense lobbying from students and parents squeezed by fees of over £9,000 or concerned about financing them in future.
In a rarely seen feat of political engagement among younger generations, students packed out the States Assembly viewing gallery to watch the result – 45 votes for and none against – which was met with foot-stomping approval.
Every student living in a household with an annual income of under £110,000 will now be able to have their tuition fees covered up to £9,250 a year.
During yesterday’s debate, politicians reflected on the barrage of letters received from future undergraduates – packed with both heartfelt pleas and emojis, according to the Constable of St. Martin – about how the move would set them up for a positive future, and heighten their employment prospects.
The Assembly adopted proposals for Higher Education Student Grants by 45 votes to 0.— States Assembly (@StatesAssembly) April 9, 2018
The Treasury Minister, Senator Alan Maclean, spoke also of parents faced with the choice of selling their home, taking on debt or even choosing between siblings as to who can and can’t go to university within the same family. “I urge members to support and give hope and opportunity to hundreds of our young people. They are the future,” he commented.
But the approved scheme is only guaranteed to be in place until the end of the current Medium Term Financial Plan, which expires in 2019. After that, the Council of Ministers will be forced to come up with a full funding plan, following an amendment by Senator Philip Ozouf to make it an “interim” scheme. He said that this would bring “certainty” for parents.
The proposal led to concerns from some that this could be used as a ‘get-out’ clause for the new States Assembly, following May’s election. “I think it’s completely the opposite, it brings uncertainty. An interim measure is not what we want to be signalling at this particular time,” Senator Maclean commented.
St. Helier Deputy Judy Martin argued that the word “interim” would mean that a new Council of Ministers would be able to “wriggle out of” coming up with a sustainable plan, which she feared could “take another 12 or 15 years.”
100% of votes in favor of the scheme securing higher education funding for the next three years. A ‘good day in Parliament’ .— Beaulieu School (@BeaulieuSchool) April 9, 2018
Deputy Jeremy Macon – Chairman of the Scrutiny Panel responsible for reviewing the proposals – supported the amendment, having argued in a Scrutiny report that the scheme should only be a stop-gap solution, and that the Treasury Minister should give consideration to a loan scheme in future. Senator Maclean argued, however, that this idea had already been rejected because the Council “did not wish to burden students or their families with significant debt for many years to come.” He added that it would also not be economically viable – at a default rate of 10%, he argued that the annual costs for administration and write-offs would be around £3million after 10 years.
The amendment was nonetheless approved, and welcomed by Beaulieu headteacher Chris Beirne, who added that the overall adoption of the grant scheme constituted a “good day in Parliament.”
Deputy Macon said that he was "delighted" about the unanimous approval, commented that the scheme would "allow many of our students to reach their aspirations!"
"It was great to hear the cheers and clapping from students and families when the States Assembly all voted pour for this scheme," he said.
The Student Loan Support Group, which had spent several years lobbying on the issue and attending numerous Scrutiny Panel reviews on the matter, said that they were "excited" about the result. They wrote on social media: "Fantastic to see so many in the public gallery, thank you to the students who turned up. Really hope that now they can get back to studying, without worry, work hard get great grades, and take up the opportunities that this better funding will provide.
"Go out there and make a difference!"
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