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Higher university fees `no answer' during austerity

UU's Magee campus in Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

HIGHER tuition fees are not the answer to educating a society during austerity, a union of academics has warned.

The University and College Union (UCU) cautioned against making further cuts in higher education.

The union was responding to comments made by Ulster University (UU) vice chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon who, in an interview with the Irish News, said that increased fees and greater numbers of international students could tackle the "massive" underfunding of universities.

Budget cuts, political instability and Brexit are taking their toll on higher education.

UU said in 2015 it would cut 210 jobs and 1,200 student places due to a funding reduction. Since 2011, its budget from Stormont fell from £89 million to closer to £70m.

Prof Nixon said the decline in funding was undermining industrial and economic strategies. Less money, Prof Nixon said, meant fewer students.

He said the university was planning for budget cuts of 2, 4, 8 and 12 per cent.

Responding, the UCU said it was not naive and knew further cuts would have to be made.

"While we consistently and robustly challenge budget cuts to higher education, we recognise that some level of cut is likely," a spokesman said.

"What is crucial is that Ulster University management consults with us about how to deal with it; not just because we want them to, but because employment legislation and best practice calls upon them to do so."

Options for higher education funding - including one that could see a three-year degree costing £27,000 - were being considered prior to Stormont being suspended. `Home' students at the north's institutions are paying more than £4,000 a year for the first time.

Prof Nixon said one option was a combination of government funding and fees of about £6,500 a year.

The UCU said, however, that fees were "not the answer to educating a society during austerity".

"Anyone who works with students on a day to day basis knows that. Universities exist to educate and provide research to enable a society to thrive.

"The rational approach, then, is that those who do and support the educating and the research must not be cut. Especially not in a university that already has one of the worst student staff ratios in the UK.

"UCU thinks it should be perfectly clear to Paddy Nixon how any cut to Ulster University's budget should be dealt with. At the very least he should talk to us."

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