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Minister feels heat over fees delay

By Lindsay Fergus

The Executive has come under fire ahead of tomorrow's A-level results over its ongoing failure to make a decision on the level of university tuition fees next year.

Students who do not secure a higher education place or decide to defer for a year will be left in limbo as Northern Ireland remains the only UK region not to have set tuition fees for 2012.

UUP MLA Sandra Overend who sits on Stormont's Employment and Learning Committee said: "The committee has been trying to push the minister [Stephen Farry] to make a decision as soon as possible. We had a debate in the Assembly before the recess trying to highlight to the minister and the Executive the importance of this issue, which needs resolved sooner rather than later.

"It's a tough enough time for students getting results, wondering what is the next step in their lives, without this lack of decision by the Executive. It really does not help at such a nerve-wracking time."

A spokesman for the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) said yesterday: "The minister has passed proposals to his Executive colleagues on the important issue of higher education funding in Northern Ireland including levels of tuition fees.

"He is working to ensure that decisions are made as soon as possible to provide clarity and certainty for students, parents, institutions and other stakeholders."

UCAS head Mary Curnock Cook, who had written to DEL Minister Stephen Farry in June voicing concerns about the non decision on tuition fees, told the Belfast Telegraph: "We have been assured by officials in Northern Ireland that they are making as rapid progress as they can."

Tuition fees here are currently £3,290 but the average tuition fees in England and Wales next year are set to be £8,666.

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