A proposal to increase student tuition fees at Queen’s University in Belfast has provoked an angry backlash from some political, student and trade union leaders.
Following a reduction in funding for higher education from the Northern Ireland Executive, the university has proposed three “costed funding options” to reverse a cut in the number of student places – including a hike in tuition fees.
If implemented, the plan would result in the current fee of £3,925 to study at Northern Ireland universities rising to between £5,200 and £6,300. The figures are contained in an internal Queen’s University document – prepared in response to the Executive’s programme for government 2016-21.
In the document, Queen’s said the money that higher education institutions had received from the Executive had reduced from £214m in 2009-10 to £185m in 2014-15.
“This equates to some 13 per cent in cash terms and 24 per cent in real terms. The 2015-16 academic year saw a further 10.8 per cent reduction in the higher education budget, totalling £16.1m,” it said.
The document goes on to say that the options are designed to be fair to students, graduates and Northern Ireland.
These proposals represent a betrayal of young people
“These options are designed to facilitate discussion amongst stakeholders regarding the development of a sustainable model of funding for higher education,” it added.
Alliance MLA and former employment and learning minister Stephen Farry said the Executive could make up the funding shortfall “as long as inefficiencies in public spending are addressed”.
Mr Farry said: “With a strong programme of reform, we can maintain the current approach to tuition fees and maintenance support and also invest properly in our future.”
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath described the proposals to increase fees as “unacceptable” and said they would “represent a betrayal of young people following the Assembly election”.
Queen’s Students’ Union president Sean Fearon said young people must be offered “a higher education system that is free at the point of access, publicly funded and fit for purpose”.
Sean Smyth of the Unite trade union said it was time the NI Executive took control of the £185 million funding budget provided to the universities.
“This is public money. It is essential that it is used to prioritise the education of those coming from disadvantaged and working-class households. We need to open the door to everyone in society,” he added.