Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

How rising university costs could destroy young dreams

Angelika Nowicka has dreamt about being a lawyer since she was a little girl.

And now that she’s approaching her final year at school, she is beginning to weigh up her university options.

But if the Assembly increases tuition fees, it will sound the death-knell on her plans for higher education.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the 17-year-old Hazelwood Integrated College pupil said such a scenario would force her to rethink her entire future.

“I was hoping to go to Queen’s University in Belfast or the University of Ulster, but now that might not be possible,” she said.

“I’ve wanted to study law for a long time but I’m also interested in event management, and I thought choosing between the two would be my only worry.

“Now, though, I’m really concerned that, if they increase the tuition fees, I won’t be able to go to university at all in Northern Ireland.”

Angelika is among thousands of students who will have to rethink their education strategies if the fees go up.

The cap currently stands at £3,290 a year, but in England that has gone up to £9,000 a year.

Scottish students pay no fees and the Welsh Assembly has said it will make up the difference for its students wherever they study in the UK.

Northern Ireland remains the only devolved area of the UK with no agreed tuition fees, prompting fears that a hike is imminent.

Students have taken to the streets in protest against a move many feel would preclude the less well off from going to university.

The Belfast Telegraph’s Stop Fees Hike campaign calls on politicians not to heap this burden onto students.

Retired international rugby star David Humphreys has backed the campaign, saying he fears a fees increase might bring about another “brain drain” in Northern Ireland.

“I support the Belfast Telegraph's campaign to keep university tuition fees at their current level,” he said.

“When I was going to university I remember a lot of my friends chose to study in England and Scotland, and we had the inevitable brain drain as a result of that.

“Recently that trend changed and more people decided to study at home, which was good for Northern Ireland on a number of levels. Surely we don't want to see that trend reversed.”

The Belfast Telegraph understands that the plan is currently for fees to be capped at around £6,000 in the future, but it will be next year before a decision is taken.

In the meantime, students like Angelika must also put their higher education aspirations on hold.

“Already, the current £3,290 annual fee will be difficult to pay,” she said.

“My father (Wieslaw), who is a car mechanic, is very worried he won’t be able to afford much more, so we’re actually thinking about moving to Scotland.”

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