Professor Richard Barnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster has described as 'regrettable' the recommendations of the Stuart Report on university tuition fees.
Speaking after a statement by Minister Kennedy in the Assembly, the Vice-Chancellor said:
“In her earlier review, Joanne Stuart concluded there was no reason for tuition fees to increase in real terms. The University of Ulster agreed with that assessment. However since then we have had Lord Browne's review of fees in England, the subsequent substantial reduction in public funding for universities there and the shift to higher student fees. This has had a significant knock-on effect for the Northern Ireland Executive's budget.
“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.
“We are not sure how an increase in fees of this magnitude fits in with the Executive's commitment to growing the Northern Ireland economy and the importance of all sections of society having access to the high skills needed for the development of an internationally competitive economy.
“People should be in no doubt that these recommendations are a direct consequence of Lord Browne’s review of higher education in England, who was egged on by a small group of vice-chancellors from universities more interested in attracting students who will be able to afford high fees.
“With higher education being asked by DEL to bear the greatest share of efficiency savings during the next four year Budgetary cycle, it is important that the Assembly and the Executive consider whether the current cap on student places in Northern Ireland is in the best interests of students who will now in increasing numbers be considering studying at universities closer to home rather than in England where fees will be much higher.
Approval by the Executive of the University of Ulster and DEL's bid for extra full-time students at our Magee campus would go some way towards addressing the inevitable increase in demand for university places in Northern Ireland. Such a modest commitment by the Executive would have a significant impact on opportunities for young people here.