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Tuition fees won't rise above inflation: ministers

By Noel McAdam

Students and their parents have been given the Stormont re-assurance they have been seeking - there will be no increase in tuition fees above inflation.

The confirmation came yesterday from First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as they prepared for another meeting with Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry.

But no agreement has yet been reached on where the money to fill a £40m funding gap - which refusing to raise fees will result in - will come from.

"The challenge is: how do we pay for that? We're involved in our own discussions about how we do that," Mr McGuinness said.

Apart from health, which has been partially 'ring-fenced', it has been suggested other departments will be 'top sliced' but no agreement between ministers is likely now before September.

Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson said they were working out a mechanism to take money from other departments which would cause least pain.

The Stormont top two said they hoped to have worked out a method of finding more money - likely also to include cash saved from future quarterly spending rounds - and protecting our two universities from further spending cuts by the time of the next Executive meeting in September.

"We believe as an Executive that we can deal with the implications of that vis-a-vis the funding," Mr McGuinness said.

Last week Dr Farry tabled a paper for the Executive meeting suggesting options on fees, but it was not discussed in detail.

That led to student union leaders voicing concern, but Mr Robinson said yesterday: "There should be no disappointment on the part of student leaders. They will know that our parties have committed themselves during the election period to ensure that there would be no massive hike in tuition fees.

"We're both determined that we will keep our manifesto commitment."

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