Higher university fees cannot solve funding shortfalls
HIGHER tuition fees are not the answer to solving funding shortfalls in the north's third-level education sector, politicians have been told.
An event in Stormont heard from student representatives and academic staff.
Students from Northern Ireland who take degrees at home pay £4,275 per year in tuition. Those who travel to England and Wales can be charged up to £9,250.
Addressing the panel discussion were NUS-USI President Robert Murtagh and Katharine Clarke, an official from the University and College Union.
It also heard from NUS Scotland President Liam McCabe and Sinn Féin MLA and chair of the assembly economy committee Caoimhe Archibald.
The Department for the Economy is responsible for overseeing tuition fees in the north.
"A key priority has to be ensuring that there are no barriers to accessing education regardless of socio-economic background or any other status," Ms Archibald said.
"We need to look our skills needs and how we fund this in a sustainable way. Placing greater financial burden and debt on individuals is not a solution."
Mr Murtagh said while other UK regions had been increasing investment in universities, "Northern Ireland has been actively disinvesting for years".
"Tuition fees are not the answer to the problems in Northern Ireland's higher education sector. They already represent a barrier to accessing education, particularly for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and raising them further at a time when Northern Ireland needs greater investment in skills would be a short-sighted move," he said.
Ms Clarke said the executive and department needed to think creatively.
"We should be rejecting the free market ideology that is wrecking higher education in England and seek to find systems that encourage, not discourage students from lower socio-economic backgrounds into education," she said.
Scottish students who take degrees in Scotland have their tuition fees paid by the government.
"Twelve years on from the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland it can be safely said that it hasn't just transformed education it has transformed the country at large," Mr McCabe said.