NI University tuition fees to be kept at current levels, “subject only to an inflationary rise”

As the BBC reports, Northern Ireland Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, has confirmed that the bread promised by the First and deputy First Ministers in July, will be on the menu.

But we’ll have to wait until Monday to see the details – the NI Assembly being the appropriate place to make such an announcement.  [But we need headlines now! – Ed]  Indeed.

Those details would include whether or not the proposals include students from England, Scotland and Wales.

Because there are consequences – beyond “top-slicing money from several other departments” to pay for it [£40million?  Per year?].  As the BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport points out

Some fears have been expressed that setting the fees so low could attract students from elsewhere in the UK, thereby increasing the competition for local university places.

This is likely to be countered by setting a higher fee for English, Scottish and Welsh students, so that no dramatic saving would be made by picking Queens or the University of Ulster.

This option, if approved, could bring Stormont into the firing line for the human rights lawyer who has already announced plans to challenge a similar regime in Scotland as discriminatory.

But setting that legal challenge to one side, a low local tuition fee could change the market for degrees amongst home grown students.

Back in February I reported on the figures contained in Joanne Stuart’s report which showed that whilst there were only 165 English first year students at Northern Ireland universities, there were more than 8,000 Northern Ireland students enrolled at universities across the water.

If prospective students are more reluctant to travel in the future it would put pressure on places at the two local universities.

Both scenarios could make it more difficult for Northern Ireland students to find places in Northern Ireland universities.