Chris Lyttle MLA said: “In Northern Ireland there is a stronger case for funding higher education out of public money than in England and Wales given our economic circumstances. We do not want a class-driven university system where people from low income backgrounds cannot afford to attend. We need to upskill people here and ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. Higher education is a key economic driver and the system must be adequately funded to ensure the highest possible standards of education and research.
“Universities and students are absolutely central to the future of our economy. Higher education is undoubtedly transformative, both for individuals and societies.
“It is important that in difficult times the Executive can change their priorities to help re-balance our economy. We will give all these reports due consideration and I believe that if we addressed the cost of division we could help deliver extra money for higher education and mitigate the need for tuition fees.
“We have serious concerns about the impact of tuition fees because we do not want students from lower income backgrounds being deterred from going to university. We believe that university education should be free at the point of entry.
“We do however recognise the importance of additional funding becoming available for higher education. We need to ensure the resources are in place to maintain Northern Ireland universities in the higher education top flight but we also need to reform the sector to ensure the best value for money.
“We need to make our universities as competitive as possible on the international stage. We must be able to attract the best students and academics internationally to ensure this sector reaches its potential. We must produce the best graduates and have the best research and development sector possible, and at the same time we must address the real concerns of future students from all backgrounds.”