Northern Ireland’s Assembly may follow the lead of its Welsh counterparts in sparing students from increased fees.
Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy said that the Welsh Assembly government’s decision not to introduce a hike in fees may be considered alongside other options.
Last week the cap on fees was raised to £9,000 in England — Northern Ireland’s Assembly has still not decided if it will follow with similar rises.
Mr Kennedy said: “The decision by the Welsh Assembly government to invest very significant sums of public money in keeping fees at their present rates |for Welsh students offers one |possible way forward for Northern Ireland.”
After speaking with Welsh Minister for Education Leighton Andrews about the details of their scheme, Mr Kennedy yesterday said that if Northern Ireland’s public finances allow it, he would be recommending that the Executive and Assembly consider it alongside other models of |university and student funding.
Under the terms of the Welsh scheme, students who go to university in any part of the UK in 2011-12 would not have to pay the increased charge as the Welsh Assembly government would pay
the difference between current fees and any increase of up to £9,000.
This means that Welsh students will pay no more than the current £3,290 per year.
But Mr Kennedy did say that there were significant differences between Wales and Northern |Ireland which might make it impossible to bring in the same scheme here.
“It is important to remember, however, that in the context of the Welsh proposals, we in Northern Ireland have a very different pattern of student flows with Wales being a net importer of students while we are a net exporter.
“This essential fact, and its impact on the financing of the Welsh proposals, must be considered as we develop a Northern Ireland approach to this issue,” he said.
Yesterday the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster warned that he would not have been able to go to university if increased tuition fees had been introduced in his youth.
Professor Richard Barnett said: “I was the first member of my family to go to university and I did so at a time when fees were paid by the local education authority, who also gave generous grants.
“So I benefited from free higher education as did most, if not all, of the ministers who are implementing these changes and as did most, if not all, of the Vice Chancellors who are supporting them.”