Northern Ireland

Tuition fees advice u-turn proposes cap rise to £5,750

An update to a report commissioned by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) has recommended that annual student fees should rise to almost £6,000.

The fees are currently about £3,000, but the review by Joanne Stuart from the Institute of Directors, said they should rise to a maximum of £5,750.

In an earlier report Ms Stuart said fees should be frozen.

A consultation on student finance will be launched next month.

Employment and Learning Minister Danny Kennedy told the Assembly that Ms Stuart's update will be a "key consideration" for his department.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr Kennedy said "the option of maintaining the status quo" has been rejected in Ms Stuart's updated review as it would "not address the deficit in higher education funding".

"Based on the calculations and assumptions made in the Stuart update, there would be a short fall of between approximately £40m and £65m per annum upon roll out to a full three year cohort.

"Instead, Joanne Stuart recommends an increase in the maximum fee cap of between £5,000 and £5,750."

Upfront fees

The review also recommends aligning the maintenance grant thresholds for household income levels to those in England.

That would see the current £19,000 household income qualifying threshold in NI rise to £25,000.

Ms Stuart also recommends NI adopts the UK government fee structure for non-NI domiciled students.

That would mean setting the basic fee level at £6,000, with a maximum cap of £9,000 for students coming to study in NI from the rest of the UK.

Her updated review also recommends increasing the student loan repayment threshold to £21,000 from £15,000.

Mr Kennedy said he was making a pledge to the Assembly: "I am determined to ensure that no student, no young person, no family will be required to pay upfront fees and access to university will continue to be on the basis of the ability to learn, not ability to pay," he said.

"I ask all parties to join with me in achieving a 'made in Northern Ireland' solution which secures fairness, affordability and excellence."

Mr Kennedy said any final decision on whether university tuition fees will increase will be made by a new assembly, after the May election.

Responding to the minister's statement, Professor Richard Barnett, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Ulster said: "Given the pressure on the executive's budget and the budget allocation to the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), the latest recommendations of the Stuart Review come as no surprise.

"It is regrettable that it would appear there will be a marked increase in tuition fees in Northern Ireland despite the University of Ulster voicing concerns that such a rise could act as a deterrent for people from low income backgrounds entering higher education."

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