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Stormont stall on fees not fair on students

As yet we've still got no clarity from Stormont about the university tuition issue. The First Ministers have indicated that fees will be capped at £3,200, but the universities minister, Stephen Farry, points out that there is no money to plug the £40m hole in the budget which that will create.

To add to the confusion, it is by no means clear whether any subsidised fee would apply to all students who study here.

If Northern Ireland students' fees are capped, then, under European law, students from elsewhere in the EU can't be charged at a higher rate.

We could well have an absurd scenario whereby students from Great Britain pay substantially more to study in this part of the UK than their counterparts from Europe and the Republic.

If the Executive goes down that route it could be subject to a legal challenge. In Scotland, the SNP wants students from elsewhere in the UK to pay a maximum of £9,000 per year, while Scottish students and those from elsewhere in the EU will pay nothing.

It now looks likely that this policy will be challenged in the courts - a case which will be of great interest in Northern Ireland.

Our Executive was far behind the rest of the UK when it came to setting a Budget. Now we are the only part of the UK where student fees for 2012 are not yet decided.

It might suit the politicians at Stormont to continually put difficult decisions off until the last minute, but in the real world people want to plan ahead.

ANNIKA NESTIUS-BROWN

Northern Ireland Conservatives

Strangford Association

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