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8 December 2010

Con-Dems can be defeated: Welsh Assembly backs down on EMA and fees

Showing the impact of the mass student protests over the past few weeks, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has pledged to maintain Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) despite the funding from Westminster being stopped from next year.

Sarah Wrack

The move proves that rather than cuts being about how much money there is or isn't in the bank, these attacks are a matter of choice.

After seeing hundreds of thousands of angry students take to the streets to demand the right to education, suddenly the funds are available. The same has happened in the Scottish Parliament.

This should give a new optimism to the campaign to save EMA across the country. It's not only the Welsh assembly and Scottish parliament that have control over how money is spent.

Youth Fight for Education demands that local councils follow suit and continue to provide EMA even if the central funds stop.

Any council that did this would be backed up by a surge of support from workers and students in their area and beyond.

The WAG has also promised to subsidise the increase in fees for Welsh students meaning that none will pay more than the current 3,290. This will cost around 330 million and again shows the pressure that politicians are feeling from students.

This move, however, is not as straightforward a victory as the decision to maintain EMA.

It is likely that it will be compensated for by further cutting the higher education budget and assuming Welsh universities can make the money back from English students paying full fees. This shows that the fight is far from over in Wales.

The WAG decision was also clearly influenced by the fact that Welsh students have already had their fees doubled this year as the previous scheme where they received half the cost back was ended from September. The WAG undoubtedly feared that fees jumping from 1,285 to 9,000 a year would create even more anger amongst Welsh students.

However, it is still a significant move that will prevent tens of thousands of students being burdened with the levels of debt being foisted upon the rest by the Con-Dems.

The movement against cuts and fees must avoid falling into the divisive trap of seeing this as what the Daily Mail calls "fees apartheid".

On both fees and EMA, there is the potential to force the Con-Dem government to back down, even if the cuts are formally voted through.

The WAG decisions have made it clearer than ever that we can win and, in fact, that we are winning. They are victories for the whole movement, which must be built on.