Minister in warning on tuition fees
Universities in Northern Ireland must not become clubs for the rich because of unfair tuition costs, Universities Minister Danny Kennedy has said.
English universities plan to charge up to £9,000 a year for tuition from next year with new arrangements for paying the money back when graduates have begun earning.
The proposal was passed at Westminster and is aimed at ensuring institutions have the money to continue high level research and innovation despite a funding cut announced in October.
Students have expressed fears a similar move in Northern Ireland could shut the door to the less well-off who fear a lifetime of debt.
Mr Kennedy said: "What I want to do is to bring forward in a mature and meaningful way the options that will chart the course for a fair resolution to this, understanding the need to keep universities open, not to make it a rich man's club."
The Employment and Learning Minister was addressing his scrutiny committee at Stormont.
A report by Institute of Directors' chairwoman Joanne Stuart on student finance is expected to be on the minister's desk soon and will lay out the options for reform in Northern Ireland. The department is also facing cost pressures because of last October's Comprehensive Spending Review at Westminster.
On Monday the Department for Employment and Learning outlined £67 million of cuts.
The department plans to freeze the cost-of-living increases for staff with salaries over £21,000. It also aims to save £4 million through staff efficiencies.
Mr Kennedy told the committee universities needed to be properly funded. "We do see ourselves to be in the engine room of economic recovery. Let us use our brains to bring us through the current financial difficulties and challenges that face us," he said. "Let us make Northern Ireland a place that gives opportunities to all our people, especially young people."