Politicians today attended an event in Stormont featuring leading student representatives and representatives of academic staff to hear why a rise to tuition fees is not the answer to solving the funding shortfalls in Northern Ireland’s third level education sector.
On 17 January, Arlene Foster, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Inside Politics, said that the Executive may need to consider increasing tuition fees as a means of raising revenue.
Students from Northern Ireland studying here pay £4275 per year in tuition fees, however those who go elsewhere in the UK can be charged up to £9,250.
The event was hosted by Caoimhe Archibald MLA, chair of the Economy Committee. The Department of the Economy is responsible for overseeing tuition fees in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the event, Caoimhe said “A key priority has to be ensuring that there are no barriers to accessing education regardless of socio-economic background or any other status. We need to look our skills needs and how we fund this in a sustainable way. Placing greater financial burden and debt on individuals is not a solution.”
The panel discussion, which was organised on behalf of the National Union of Students – Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI) and the University College Union (UCU) included NUS-USI student President Robert Murtagh, UCU Northern Ireland Official Katharine Clarke, NUS Scotland President Liam McCabe and Caoimhe Archibald MLA.
Robert said, “While other parts of the UK have been increasing their investment in universities, Northern Ireland has been actively disinvesting for years.
“Tuition fees are not the answer to the problems in Northern Ireland’s higher education sector. They already represent a barrier to accessing education, particularly for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and raising them further at a time when Northern Ireland needs greater investment in skills would be a short-sighted move.
“Higher tuition fees would be nothing more than a sticking plaster on a system which desperately needs a more sustainable funding model.”
Katharine said, “The Northern Ireland Executive and the Department for the Economy need to think more creatively. We should be rejecting the free market ideology that is wrecking higher education in England and seek to find systems that encourage, not discourage students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into education.”
Scottish students who continue to study in Scotland have their tuition fees paid for them by the government.
Liam said, “Twelve years on from the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland it can be safely said that it hasn’t just transformed education it has transformed the country at large. NUS Scotland are proud of the role we played in abolishing tuition fees but we recognise that there is a great distance for us yet to go to ensure that we not only have free tuition fees in Scotland but free education as a whole. That should not dissuade other parts of the United Kingdom from pursuing free tuition so that they might reap the benefits in the same way as Scotland has.”