Overhauling the rates system could help fund the ending of tuition fees, student leaders in Northern Ireland have said.
The National Union of Students will debate creating an increased regional rates system based upon ability to pay, scrapping industrial de-rating, which costs £58 million annually, and reducing spending on jobs promotion agency Invest NI to prioritise skills and qualifications.
The NUS-USI’s annual conference takes place this week in Londonderry.
President Olivia Potter-Hughes said: “NUS-USI is putting forward positive and realistic ideas on delivering additional funding for further education and higher education.
It is incumbent upon government that they employ innovative ways of scrapping tuition fees and deliver additional training and apprenticeship opportunities for people hereOlivia Potter-Hughes, NUS-USI president
“It is incumbent upon government that they employ innovative ways of scrapping tuition fees and deliver additional training and apprenticeship opportunities for people here.”
She said the £58 million spent on industrial de-rating was not a key factor in retaining manufacturing jobs but would make a massive impact if reinvested in skills and qualifications.
Ms Potter-Hughes added: “We also believe that Invest NI funding should be reduced to focus spending priorities on skills and apprenticeships, and this could mean better value for money and could deliver more impact for our economy in the longer term.”
Tuition fees currently cost £4,030 in Northern Ireland.
Much of that is financed through loans and the total debt owed by students has increased since the loans system began 20 years ago.
Over recent years universities in Northern Ireland have cut staff jobs and student places.
Ms Potter-Hughes said: “It is crucial that action is taken to scrap tuition fees and invest more money in further education and higher education as this will enable Northern Ireland to create opportunities and boost the economy, while also addressing potential negative impacts of Brexit and political instability here.
“Many students and young people currently feel that they may need to move away to gain the educational or career opportunities they want to access as a result of these issues.
“Northern Ireland needs to send out a message to students and young people that they can have a future of hope and opportunity here, and scrapping fees would send out this message loudly and clearly.
“For Northern Ireland to maximise economic potential, it needs to invest more in its people and their skills.”