Northern Ireland

NI graduates face higher interest on student loans

University graduates on graduation day

The Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) said it will have to consider the Browne review of higher education before it launches a public consultation on tuition fees.

The review, which is published on Tuesday, is expected to call for the cap on fees to be removed.

Since the fees are collected by HMRC it is likely any changes in England could be mirrored in Northern Ireland.

A separate review carried out by DEL into fees is yet to be published.

Currently all graduates pay a low interest rate, linked to the base rate, on their tuition fees and loans.

DEL has carried out its own review of tuition fees chaired by Joanne Stuart. That review is with the minister but has not been published pending the publication of the Browne review.

A spokesperson for DEL said on Monday that any recommendations by Lord Browne would need to be considered by the Minister prior to a public consultation.

"Joanne Stuart's review looked at issues which are within the gift of the devolved administration and taxation is not one of those issues.

"The level of tuition fees in Northern Ireland is ultimately a matter for the assembly."

Mr Empey is due to brief the Assembly on the implications of the Browne Review on Tuesday.

In England ministers had been considering a system of tiered interest rates, tied to graduates' earnings.

This may have meant higher rates for higher-earning graduates.

But the BBC understands ministers are now moving towards charging most graduates a flat, market rate of interest on their loans, with only graduates on low salaries enjoying the lower rate.

The threshold for paying the money back would be raised from the current level of £15,000.

There would also be pressure on universities to provide more bursaries.

The earnings level at which graduates start repaying loans may also be raised.

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