Students and young people are being urged to use their vote to support education for all in this year’s Assembly election.
The Green Party, which is fielding candidates in the university constituencies of South Belfast and East Antrim, has pledged to make opposition to higher university fees and the retention of support for sixth formers a central plank of its campaign.
Up to 50 people an hour have been joining the Young Greens in England and Wales after party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas described the coalition government’s decision to raise the maximum level of undergraduate fees to £9,000 as “an attack on the principle of universal education.” Greens in Northern Ireland have also been actively opposing any increase in university fees in the province, taking part in demonstrations at Queen’s University and Stormont.
Clare Bailey, Assembly candidate for South Belfast, said:
“The Executive has yet to reveal how much it thinks people in Northern Ireland should pay to go to university, but the early signs are not promising. When the report commissioned by the Department of Employment and Learning concluded that fees should not increase any more, its author was sent away to reconsider her recommendations.
“The parties in the Executive must not be allowed to get away with dragging their heels until after the election – the wrong decision now could make higher education the preserve of the well off for generations to come, so voters need to know where every candidate stands before they cast their ballots in May.
“The Green Party will continue to stand against any further increase in fees. Our current MLAs are from a generation when higher education was free for all – how can they ask future students to take on crippling levels of debt? Future graduates will find it increasingly hard to become financially independent and this level of debt could affect their chances of securing a mortgage. A rise in tuition fees will have a knock on effect for wider society. All of society benefits from higher education and how it is funded should reflect this.”
The Green Party will also defend college funding and the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which has helped many teenagers from less well off backgrounds continue their education post-GCSE. The party believes education is a right, not a privilege, and that a well educated workforce is an essential first step towards a prosperous and sustainable future.