“A considerable element of this will be financed by charging higher fees to students from England, Scotland and Wales.”

With the headlines grabbed on Thursday, and the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers off to Hollywood [USA], the only thing left for Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, to do was to inform the NI Assembly of the details on tuition fees.

According to the BBC report

“These decisions are a clear indication that the executive is working for Northern Ireland,” [Stephen Farry] said.

“For our future students, for our graduates and indeed for their families and the economy.

“A considerable element of this will be financed by charging higher fees to students from England, Scotland and Wales.”

That should raise around £5m and Mr Farry will find the remaining £17m from internal savings in his department.

I’m not sure where that £5million estimate comes from, those other fees haven’t been set yet.  As the notes to the ministerial press release point out

Legislation will be brought forward to enable the Higher Education institutions in Northern Ireland to set higher fees for students from England, Scotland and Wales. These will not be subject to a legislative cap but are not expected to exceed £9,000.

Even if it is £17million, as Gonzo said, “That’s a big chunk to absorb.”

And on the increased pressure on student places in Northern Ireland, the notes to the press release have this to say

  • The cap on Maximum Student Numbers here (the MASN cap) currently limits the number of students that NI Higher Education providers can recruit. With tuition fee levels in Northern Ireland being significantly lower than England and Wales, it is likely that more Northern Ireland domiciled students will wish to study here. This will create a pressure on student numbers and the Department, in recognising the issue, will work closely with Higher Education providers to facilitate a modest increase in the number of student places. It is likely that any new places will only be in areas of economic relevance, will be phased in over a number of years, and will be reviewed regularly to determine the impact of student flows.

Are the universities likely to push for an increase in the numbers of student places?  As Queen’s pro-vice chancellor, Tony Gallagher, told the BBC last week.

“What we have suggested is that the cap on places in NI should apply only to NI students which allows us to protect places for NI students,” Mr Gallagher said.

“If we are allowed to charge more for students from England, that gives us flexibility in dealing with the situation.”

He said that it was important to recognise that increasing places at NI’s universities was also costly.

“For every extra 1,000 places, that adds an extra £5m to the bill that the Department of Education and Learning (Del) and other departments have to deal with,” he said.