The Green Party in Northern Ireland today expressed deep concern over how the findings of the Stuart Report on university fees will be used.
The Party has rejected the recommendation that fees be raised from £3000 to £5750, saying that such an increase will bring about decades of debt for local students and will dissuade young people from lower income families from going on to higher education.
Green Party Leader Steven Agnew said: “We have consistently said that student fees in Northern Ireland should not be raised as education should be based on ability and not the ability to pay.
“In such tough economic times, even the slightest increase in student fees will act as a deterrent to young people from middle and lower income families to pursue third level education as the majority of households are struggling to meet basic household expenditure.
“Education should not be seen as a luxury that only the rich can enjoy – it should be open to all and if we don’t invest in our young people now, our future economy will suffer.”
Clare Bailey, the Green Party’s Assembly candidate for Belfast South, urged voters to send a clear message of opposition to increased fees in May’s election.
“The Minister of Employment and Learning clearly believes that delaying a final decision will prevent the fees issue having a damaging effect at the ballot box in May. But the department has already made its intentions clear by asking Joanne Stuart to revise her original recommendation that fees should not rise. Why bother having independent advisors if they are only listened to when their advice is what the Minister wants to hear?
“By passing the buck and deferring implementation it to the next Assembly, all the Minister will achieve is to leave the students of the future and their families in a state of limbo and worry for months. Freezing fees for Northern Ireland students would provide an incentive for our young people to stay at home and make a valuable contribution to our future economy, preventing a ‘brain drain’ that could set us back decades.”
The Green Party is currently preparing to publish its manifesto, which the party promises will set out solutions for higher education funding that will not force the next generation to pay the price for the greed and mistakes of the wealthiest sections of society today.