Tuition fees 'should be £6,000'
A new report on student fees in Northern Ireland has effectively recommended nearly doubling levels to almost £6,000 per year, MLAs have been told.
Minister for Employment and Learning Danny Kennedy said he had been handed five options, ranging from the abolition of fees, to charging university students up to £9,000 each year, thereby matching levels in England.
Mr Kennedy launched a consultation document which also included a preferred plan to raise fees, currently capped at £3,290, to between £5,000 and £5,750, while also making grant aid available to greater numbers of students.
The Ulster Unionist minister told Stormont a decision would fall to politicians after the May 5 Assembly elections.
But he said new ways of financing higher education were needed and he appealed for parties to hold a mature debate on the controversial issue.
Mr Kennedy said: "Option four recommends increasing fees to between £5,000 and £5,750, increasing the threshold for maximum maintenance grant and increasing the amount of maximum maintenance grant payable.
"This is in effect the option preferred by Joanne Stuart in her updated independent review."
Sinn Fein has already said it will block a fees hike at the Executive, while other parties including the DUP have echoed its concern that higher fees may deter students from deprived backgrounds.
The minister told the Assembly: "It is widely acknowledged, and I am well aware, that tuition fees are a contentious issue.
"I would like to stress that it is very important not to consider the level of fee in isolation but also to recognise all of the elements of the student support package, including maintenance grants, loans and the repayment arrangements."