Queen's University Belfast losing touch with society over proposed hike in fees, says student body
Queen's University has been blasted as "deeply irresponsible" for suggesting student fees could rise to £6,300 a year.
It came after an official document from the university proposing the increase, in response to the Stormont Executive's draft programme for government, was leaked to the BBC.
A drop in public funding - from £214m in 2009-10 to £185m in 2014-15 - was cited as the main reason for the hike.
With tuition fees here currently set at £3,925 a year, student leaders reacted with outrage to the proposed rise.
NUS-USI president Fergal McFerran said: "The arguments against fees are clear - socially, morally and even economically.
"You do not build a strong economy by lumping debt on students. You cannot enhance social mobility by creating more barriers to tertiary education.
"It saddens me to say it, but Queen's is losing touch with its purpose in our society.
"Maybe Queen's University should reflect on the grossly inflated salary its vice chancellor receives - which is more than double that which a First Minister receives - instead of trying to dump more debt and higher fees on students.
"NUS-USI will simply not tolerate any increase in tuition fees, and the student movement is ready and willing to oppose any such move."
Queen's Students' Union president Sean Feaon added: "The Queen's University proposal to increase tuition fees will only drive the export of our school leavers to universities elsewhere.
"Tuition fees are not affordable for our young people or for the region, with graduates this year starting out in life burdened by nearly £20,000 in debt."
The Unite union, meanwhile, warned that the proposal, if passed, could force working-class children out of higher education.
"It is completely indefensible to argue for a further substantial increase in fees while management receives inflated, six-figure salaries and students are left coping with five-figure debts," said regional officer Sean Smyth .
"There is mounting evidence that young people coming from working-class or lower-income households are put off higher education opportunities by the exorbitant fees being charged by universities in England and Wales. And now Queen's University appears to want to go down the same path."
A statement from the University said it was, "Committed to working in partnership with the Executive to achieve a solution to the current structural funding deficit that exists in the higher education sector".
"Presently, some 35% of our 18 to 19-year-olds leave Northern Ireland to be educated in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and further afield," the statement added.
"We are the only region in the UK that exports our young people, and we must reverse this brain drain.
"The university reviewed the options contained in a Department for Employment and Learning paper, Securing a Sustainable Solution for Higher Education in Northern Ireland, in order to assess the best solution to address the structural deficit.
"We will continue to work with all stakeholders in order to find a resolution to this important issue.
"Finding a solution is critical to underpinning the growth of the knowledge economy and realising the ambition of the new draft programme for government framework and the Fresh Start Agreement."