VICE-chancellor of the University of Ulster, Professor Richard Barnett:
“This is a profoundly significant issue for the future of Northern Ireland and I applaud the Belfast Telegraph for recognising the gravity of the challenge. At the University of Ulster we believe that a university education should be available to everyone with the ability to benefit from it.
“Raising tuition fees to £9,000 — as is being done in England — will do nothing in terms of encouraging people from poorer backgrounds to come and benefit from higher education.
“We need fair play for students in Northern Ireland — and a funding system that protects our proud record of inclusive higher education.
“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. Under the new proposals, I just don’t know if that would have been possible.”
ZOE Salmon, qualified solicitor and TV presenter:
“I think tuition fees should remain at their current level. I had debts of around £15,000 when I left university and I found it hard enough to pay that back. It would have been absolutely horrendous had that amount been doubled. Everyone expects a bit of inflation, a bit of a rise, but almost £6,000 is just ridiculous. It’s too much, it’s unfair and it’s unreasonable.
“The end result would simply be to put a massive strain on students and on Northern Ireland as a whole. It will just exacerbate the current economic downturn and make life worse for everyone. It isn’t fair to have an elitism system, where only people from privileged backgrounds could attend. Third level education should be open to everyone, if that’s the path they wish to follow.”
BBC sports pundit and Belfast Telegraph columnist Alan Green:
“I went to Queen’s in an era when my fees were paid and I earned what little I could to supplement my grant at Christmas and during the summer.
“I have huge sympathy with students and their feelings towards an increase in tuition fees. I couldn’t have conceived of going to university if I hadn’t had a grant. My son and daughter have come through
university having accumulated debt of £14,000 and I am against the situation getting any worse.”
COLONEL Tim Collins, former Colonel in the British Army, famous for his inspirational speech during the Iraq War in 2003:
“I went to Queen’s University Belfast on a full grant. I think that in Northern Ireland we have a long tradition of excellence in education, but we also have to see it in the context of what has happened to the system over the years. I disagree with the attempts of the previous Government to limply drive one third of people to university and I think the previous administration damaged the system. Now we need to find a solution that involves some help from Government combined with great talent. I have five children, one of whom is already at university, and I find myself paying a lot for tertiary education. Luckily I can afford to send my children there, but I do realise some people won’t be able to pay their way if fees increase.”
TREVOR Ringland, former Ireland and British Lions rugby player and solicitor turned politician:
“I am against any rise in fees. I have two children at university and another one to go and I believe education is everything. It’s the key to the future success of our society and as a parent and taxpayer I’m prepared to pay to make sure our children have access to education. If we start increasing tuition fees, it will put off the people who can least afford it and that will be disastrous for Northern Ireland. Some parents won’t send their children to third level education after they look at the figures, which would be detrimental for our country. We need to continue to keep a high skills base and invest in technology if we wish to retain our competitiveness.”
LADY Hermon, North Down MP:
“I am bitterly opposed to top-up tuition fees. I have children at university in Scotland and England, so I’m particularly interested in the current debate. It’s a highly controversial issue and one which must be resolved in the best possible way. Increasing fees will deter a lot of very talented people from going just because they can’t afford it, which would be an enormous step back for Northern Ireland. It’s absolutely repugnant to think some students will have to pay £9,000 a year for tertiary level education.”