University students could face £9,000-a-year fees
Three options for the future of university funding in Northern Ireland - including annual fees of £9,000 a year - are being examined by Stormont.
A paper has been published by Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry following a public consultation. It will be up to the next Executive to take a final decision on which funding model to pursue.
Mr Farry said a funding gap of up to £2,500 per student between here and England was unsustainable.
The first option under consideration would see more public investment in universities and no tuition fees, which would cost £116m a year.
The second involves fees of £9,000 per year, which would require no additional investment from the Executive.
The final option proposes tuition fees of £6,000 and £34m extra investment from the Executive.
With the Executive facing reduced budgets, option one appears unlikely.
Student union body, the NUS-USI, said it would not tolerate higher fees. "This paper and the options outlined within it present an opportunity to commence progress towards delivering an end to tuition fees," president Fergal McFerran added.
"We believe there should be free education and no increase in tuition fees. Across the world, there are countries which fund tertiary education entirely through public funding. We're very clear - we see this as a question of political priorities.
"In the coming weeks and months, political parties will be setting out their stall and putting themselves before the electorate. We want to know whether they believe it would be fair to continue with the failed tuition fees experiment by lumping more and more debt on students.
"The student movement is committed to continuing to engage with politicians on this issue, but we will not tolerate any suggestion of raising tuition fees."