Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: University tuition must be affordable

Students have found their voice in recent weeks and, while we do not agree with some of the more extreme actions which accompanied their protests against proposed rises in tuition fees, they have a case which deserves to be listened to.

That is why this newspaper is calling on the Executive at Stormont to consider alternative options to the Westminster government's recommendations. Scotland does not charge students tuition fees and Wales has decided to foot the bill for any increased fees its students face while studying anywhere in the UK.

Northern Ireland's devolved administration should, at least, follow the lead of Wales. Local politicians have an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of young people by making third level education affordable to all. That is an investment in the future and should be grasped with both hands.

One of the big challenges facing the Executive in the coming years is reshaping, or rebalancing, the economy, encouraging entrepreneurs, attracting inward investment and ending the over-dependence on the public sector.

To stand any chance of achieving those aims, its needs a young, skilled, well-educated workforce and it needs to encourage young people to stay in Northern Ireland to begin their careers.

Allowing universities to increase tuition fees to the heights of £9,000 a year would inevitably deter many bright young people from seeking third level education. They would not want to be saddled with huge long-term debts.

We need to allow our young people to dream their dreams, aspire to be the best they can and become the wealth creators of tomorrow.

We must not put a cap on their aspirations. Quite rightly we seek to protect our old people through policies such as universal cold weather payments. We should not submit our young people to the chill of our indifference.

Instead, it is a time for our politicians to be bold and imaginative and help young people fulfil their talents.

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