Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Missing out on real university challenge

Going to university is a life-enriching experience. Not only do students gain vital qualifications to increase their employment prospects, but they also have the opportunity to learn life skills such as budgeting, self-sufficiency and a work ethic.

It is often the first time many young people move away from home and enables them to meet new people and experience different cultural values. In the past university was often the first time many people crossed the religious divide.

However the increase in tuition fees in Britain up to £9,000 has deterred many students from the province going to university there. Instead they will seek their third-level education at our own universities and miss the opportunity to test themselves in a different environment.

There is one loophole - caused by EU law which states that students from all member states must be treated equally.

Northern Ireland students who hold an Irish passport, making them theoretically Irish citizens, have to be treated by Scottish universities in the same manner as Scottish students and not charged fees.

It is a bizarre situation but one which families will be tempted to exploit as it could save them up to £27,000 during the term of an ordinary degree course. Political allegiance could be of secondary importance to financial prudence.

The Scottish universities, however, have a cap on the number of EU students accepted onto their courses and anyone exploiting the loophole could find their preferred option already full up.

The core problem in all of this was the decision to allow universities to raise their tuition fees to £9,000, a move enthusiastically embraced by universities in England.

While the institutions may be delighted with the extra revenue, it has reduced the number of students from other parts of the UK wanting to go there to study and denied them the opportunity to expand their horizons, which is one of the key benefits of third level education.

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