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Plans for universities are populist, not practical

I could not agree more with Ed Curran (Comment, September 19) on the inability of the DUP/Sinn Fein-dominated Executive to make tough decisions.

In the area of higher education - the area I know most about, having researched it for more than 30 years - it is clear that the populist strategy of not increasing undergraduate tuition fees is both unfair to other sectors especially in the employment and leaning department's portfolio, and is going to be unsustainable.

By creating such a huge financial incentive for students to stay while not significantly increasing places it is clear that grades sought will increase, coupled with a greater use of specialist tests.

In other words, it is going to be harder to get a university place in Northern Ireland. Applicants for courses which would be regarded as having moderate demand this year will find grades sharply increasing next year, while high-demand courses will increasingly use tests to supplement A-Levels.

In such circumstances, middle-class students are likely to profit over those from less well-off backgrounds.

Finally, although a close student of higher education policy here for many years and having been an adviser to Stormont some years ago on these very matters, at no stage was it thought by the minister or any MLA worth contacting me: a triumph of populism over evidence-based policy making?

EMERITUS PROFESSOR BOB OSBORNE

University of Ulster

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