South Belfast Greens have turned out in support of one of the UK’s largest protests against plans for unlimited university tuition fees.
Local party members have called on the Northern Ireland Executive to reject Lord Browne’s proposals – which could see the average student graduate with debts of £50,000 – in light of a local report which states that there is no evidence that higher fees have led to an improvement in education.
Members of both South Belfast Greens and QUB Greens were among the 1,600 people who demonstrated against the Browne Report’s call for the abolition of the current cap on the fees universities can charge.
South Belfast Greens chairperson Mark Simpson said:
“Just ten years ago, the very idea that students should pay upfront fees for higher education was hugely controversial. Now the coalition government is preparing to allow universities to charge what they like, leaving university applicants with a choice of attending a relatively underfunded institution or graduating with crippling debts.
“It would be particularly disappointing if the Liberal Democrats, who have in the past had an honourable record of opposing first the introduction of tuition fees and subsequent increases, were partly responsible for implementing John Browne’s proposals.
“Fortunately, there is an alternative. Joanne Stuart’s report on higher education funding in Northern Ireland recommends that the Executive should retain fees for local universities at their current level for now and order an investigation into whether they should be scrapped altogether in the longer term.
“The Green Party calls on the Executive to show that devolution really means local Ministers taking local decisions for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, not simply following in the footsteps of Westminster on every issue. The Department of Employment and Learning should announce when it is going to publish Joanne Stuart’s report in full and order meaningful public consultation on a range of funding options that recognise education as a right, not a privilege.”