Better Way Forward Needed for Higher Education, says Committee

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 09 February 2011

Reference: E&L 10/10/11

Options for funding higher education must take account of local needs. That message emerged as the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Employment and Learning took evidence from Joanne Stuart whose report on the university tuition fees was published on Tuesday.

The report, which proposes that the Department for Employment and Learning increase higher education fees cap to a maximum of £5,750, was commissioned to take account of the Browne review into funding for higher education in Great Britain.

Chairperson of the Committee, Dolores Kelly MLA said: “We are deeply concerned about how these proposals might translate into lost opportunities for our young people. Increasing fees, even if they are not paid up front, could well deter our young people from applying to university. There is a fear of debt amongst people here – even if payment is postponed to some future point.

“Increasing the skills base in Northern Ireland is vital if we are to improve the economic prospects in our economy. We understand that the Stuart report is a response to the student fees issue that takes account of the deficit in the Department for Employment and Learning’s budget for the next four years. However, we believe that the proposed budget—which is still in draft—should be revisited.

“It is not good enough to spread the Department’s spending more thinly. The Committee believes that better targeting might allow for a more efficient allocation of funding and this could mitigate against higher fees. We ask that the Minister and the Executive to revisit this issue urgently.”

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