Farry says tackling inefficiencies central to freezing fees and funding higher education

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry has stressed the importance of the Executive properly funding local universities, saying it can be achieved without increasing tuition fees as long as inefficiencies in public spending are addressed.

Dr Farry, the former Employment and Learning Minister, was speaking in response to news regarding a Queen’s University paper that explores a number of options to address the funding gap.

“Higher education is a public good and is major boost to individuals, and employers, and our economy and society as a whole,” he said.

“QUB’s options mirror the outcome of the Big Conversation process which I published in March this year. The starting point is to recognise the funding gap that exists between the resourcing of universities in Great Britain and locally, which amounts to £39 million per year, and also the impact of the £16 million Executive cuts from 2015/16, which led to a reduction in places. There is also the need to expand higher education, with funding in the region of £30 million, if universities and other providers are to keep pace with the demand for high level skills.

“If we are to grow our economy and in particular to benefit from the lower rate of corporation tax, there must be a strong and increased pipeline of people with high level skills, including graduates. Addressing the higher education funding issue is therefore an inescapable requirement if Northern Ireland is to have any credibility as an investment location.

“This £85 million can be found from within the existing Northern Ireland budget if the Executive is prepared to address waste and inefficiency, including tackling the costs of managing a divided society. Higher and further education is integrated in sharp contrast to the expensive and less efficient primary and secondary sectors.

“With a strong programme of reform, we can maintain the current approach to tuition fees and maintenance support and also invest properly in our future.”

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