Students fees plan being debated
The Executive could be asked to pay extra for Northern Ireland students who want to study in England if fees here do not increase significantly.
The coalition plans to charge as much as £9,000 a year in fees from 2012.
Stormont Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy will consult on changes in Northern Ireland, where the cost is currently capped at £3,290, early next year. The minister is debating what support would be available for students from Northern Ireland going to Great Britain.
Mr Kennedy said: "If we don't increase to an extent the student fees then the department has to fund...will the department be given the money?"
He said there would be a continuing demand for students to study in England. The minister added the question to be resolved was how much the government pays and how much the student or the students` parents are expected to pay.
Mr Kennedy also warned if less students were studying in Great Britain then there could be more pressure for places in Northern Ireland while increased costs could also discourage the brightest from studying at universities like Oxford.
Lord Browne's review of the higher education system in England recommended the cap on tuition fees be lifted.
A report chaired by the Institute of Directors' chairwoman Joanne Stuart into Northern Ireland tuition fees suggested that they stay at their present level. That is now being reviewed following Lord Browne`s recommendations while Mr Kennedy has already indicated his intention to retain the cap on fees in Northern Ireland.
Universities UK president Professor Steve Smith has pledged his conditional support for coalition Government plans to increase student fees. He warned if that did not go ahead it could mean massive reductions in student numbers.
Prof Smith said: "Cutting student numbers would do more harm to social mobility than an increased graduate contribution with a progressive repayment mechanism and more maintenance support for students from low-income backgrounds."