Alliance Education Spokesperson, Cllr. Naomi Long MLA, has pledged that Alliance will continue to oppose the Government’s proposals to extend their top-up fees to Northern Ireland, during consultation to be launched later today. Cllr. Long expressed her support for the Scottish model and said that today’s decision illustrated the need for the return of devolved Government.
The Government’s plans would allow universities to charge variable fees of up to £3000 per annum for courses which Alliance claims would create ‘a two-tier education system’, where those from higher income backgrounds would be more likely to seek places on longer, more respected courses at the top universities.
Cllr. Long said, “Alliance is committed to a higher education system which, at the point of access, is based on academic ability, not ability to pay. We believe that top-up fees will create a two-tier education system with the best courses and top universities able to charge a premium. This will restrict choice for less well off students because of the fear of accumulating huge levels of debt.
“The argument that we have no choice but to follow in the footsteps of England and Wales, is clearly nonsense. Scotland is able to operate its own system, and if any regional model were to be introduced, the Scottish one would be preferable. There are no upfront tuition fees, bursaries available for disadvantaged groups, loans are only repaid when graduates reach an income threshold, and repayment is in proportion to earnings. This system appears to be more successful, with high levels of student participation and widespread support from students.
“Today’s announcement, by a Minister who has been in place for less than a week, clearly shows the need for devolution to be returned as soon as possible. It is vital that those blocking progress face up to their responsibilities and do what they can to end the political impasse. We opposed the SDLP Minister’s decision to row back on their manifesto commitments on scrapping tuition fees, but they were at least accountable to the people and politicians here had the opportunity to debate the matter.
“Alliance is calling for the Government to make a pledge not to extend top-up fees to Northern Ireland and we will oppose any attempt to foist these unfair proposals upon students here.”