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Ulster VC Hits Out At Browne Fees Plan

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster, Professor Richard Barnett, today hit out at the Browne proposals for student finance reform, saying that the current proposals amounted to the “privatisation of higher education.”

Speaking to MLAs on Stormont’s Employment and Learning Committee, who are visiting the University’s Magee campus in Londonderry today, the Vice Chancellor said:

“What these fees proposals are about is the privatisation of higher education. That is what a small self-appointed group of self-serving universities have been pushing for over a longer period, and they may now well be getting their way in England. They recruit largely from private schools and do little for widening access.

“The envisaged scale of increase in fees – to £7,000 and beyond - is not justified.

"Higher education is the responsibility of the Assembly, not of Whitehall.  We have the opportunity to set our own agenda and serve the community as a whole and refuse to follow an elitist agenda."

Professor Barnett continued: “These elitist universities don’t understand the widening access issues that we at the University of Ulster are passionate about. We at Ulster believe that all sections of society should benefit from higher education and not just those with deep pockets.”

Echoing the words of US President Barack Obama,  the Vice-Chancellor called for greater understanding of the importance of university education for the future prosperity of our society, and our ability to compete in the international sphere:

“President Obama wants to have eight million more graduates a year because the United States has been slipping and will only get back its top position in the economy through investment in higher education.

“In every speech he makes, President Obama says that countries that out-educate us today, will out-compete us tomorrow."

Access to a University education should be the right of everyone who has the talent to benefit from it, Professor Barnett said. Income should not be a barrier to gaining a degree and the lifetime opportunities that flow from it.

The high powered Stormont committee also heard a call for the lifting of the government-imposed cap (MaSN) on student numbers at Magee.

Professor Deirdre Heenan, Dean of Academic Development at Magee, told the Committee:

"Lifting the MaSN cap is a prerequisite for the realisation of our ambitious plans for growth at Magee. The University is crucial to the future of the city and the current artificial limit on growth is a major stumbling block to development."