Plans To Increase Tuition Fees Slammed

Plans to increase tuition fees in Northern Ireland to as much as £6,300 per year have been slammed by the SDLP.

Education spokesperson Colin McGrath described the hike in fees as "outrageous and unacceptable".

He said: "The disinvestment that we've seen across higher education institutions, particularly in student places, poses a very serious threat to our economic recovery and to our ability to attract new FDI and high quality jobs. The cuts that have been forced on universities and colleges must be reversed immediately and a new plan for growth introduced.

"Our economic recovery relies on a healthy supply of highly skilled graduates in emerging high wage sectors. It's imperative therefore that we broaden access to further and higher education through universities, colleges and apprenticeships. In that context, the proposals to increase tuition fees to as much as £6,300 per year are absolutely unacceptable."

A spokesperson from Queen's University in Belfast said: "Queen's University is committed to working in partnership with the Executive to achieve a solution to the current structural funding deficit that exists in the Higher Education sector. Presently, some 35% of our 18-19 year-olds leave Northern Ireland to be educated in higher education institutions in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and further afield. We are the only region in the UK that exports our young people and we must reverse this 'brain drain'.
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"The University reviewed the options contained in the Department for Employment and Learning paper on "Securing a Sustainable Solution for Higher Education in Northern Ireland" in order to assess the best solution to address the current structural deficit. We will continue to work with all stakeholders in order to find a resolution to this important issue.

"Finding a solution is critical to underpinning the growth of the knowledge economy and realising the ambition of the new draft Programme for Government framework and the Fresh Start Agreement."

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry added: "QUB's options mirror the outcome of the Big Conversation process which I published in March this year. The starting point is to recognise the funding gap that exists between the resourcing of universities in Great Britain and locally, which amounts to £39 million per year, and also the impact of the £16 million Executive cuts from 2015/16, which led to a reduction in places. There is also the need to expand higher education, with funding in the region of £30 million, if universities and other providers are to keep pace with the demand for high level skills.

"If we are to grow our economy and in particular to benefit from the lower rate of corporation tax, there must be a strong and increased pipeline of people with high level skills, including graduates. Addressing the higher education funding issue is therefore an inescapable requirement if Northern Ireland is to have any credibility as an investment location.

"This £85 million can be found from within the existing Northern Ireland budget if the Executive is prepared to address waste and inefficiency, including tackling the costs of managing a divided society. Higher and further education is integrated in sharp contrast to the expensive and less efficient primary and secondary sectors."


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