Belfast Telegraph

£85m savings needed for fees freeze

An extra £85 million must be saved over the next three years because of the decision not to substantially increase student fees, the Employment and Learning Minister confirmed.

Not filling some public service vacancies and reducing the department's estate are among measures planned to fill the gap and there will also be wider Executive support, Stephen Farry said.

Mr Farry was quizzed by a group of Stormont MLAs after he announced the new fees structures on Monday.

"This is the best deal that we could get for Northern Ireland and if there is a political consensus around keeping fees frozen in Northern Ireland, in the context of a fixed block grant and a fixed budget, we have to be realistic about what else we can achieve from that," he said.

"There are consequences that flow from that type of decision and no one should go into that with their eyes closed to what that will be."

DEL official Alan Shannon told Stormont's Employment and Learning Committee they had to find a total of £150 million savings over the period to 2015 as part of wider public spending pressures.

The total shortfall linked to the student fees decision is: £15 million in 2012/13; £30 million in 2013/14 and £40 million in 2014/15 as each new cohort of students enrols. Some of the money will come from the Executive.

"Across the board, like any other department, we are struggling to find efficiencies and trying to do that without touching front line services, we are confident we will be able to meet those," he said.

Students from the rest of the UK wishing to study in Northern Ireland could face fees of up to £9,000 a year, the Stormont Assembly has been told.

The decision to hike charges for prospective admissions from England, Scotland and Wales comes after the region's power-sharing executive decided not to substantially increase rates for local students.

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