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Minister 'dragging his heels over tuition fee charges'

By Lindsay Fergus

Northern Ireland remains the only region of the UK yet to make a decision on the level of tuition fees for 2012.

Both the Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry and the Stormont Executive have been widely criticised for dragging their heels on the issue.

SDLP education spokesman Conall McDevitt said: "A cloud of uncertainty hangs over many university hopefuls who were contemplating a gap year because of the Executive's failure to introduce a freeze on university fees.

"This is a totally unacceptable delay and must be addressed immediately."

He has also called on the Executive to end the uncertainty for students and freeze fees.

The delay has repercussions for students, the local higher education institutions who have been forced to publish their prospectuses for next year without the relevant information, and the Student Loans Company (SLC).

As SLC needs to plan its finances for 2012 a year in advance, there will also be additional pressures next year as students from here who opt to study in England face fees of up to £9,000.

Fees here are currently £3,290 per year but the Department of Employment and Learning's budget was based on the assumption that they would increase to £4,500 - half what most English universities will charge.

The majority of parties are opposed to any rise in fees, meaning the planned £1,200 annual rise is unlikely to win Assembly backing.

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