“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.

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  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Bit disappointed with this – while the current destruction of the university system is disastrous, it could at least have had positive side effects if lower fees meant wider interest in studying here.

    We could have had a boost in students from the rest of the UK, who tend to have a different idea of what cities are for, and make interesting things happen at the weekend instead of disappearing to their mother’s house leaving a trail of buckfast bottles in their wake. Increased competition for places would of course mean some home-grown students actually had to move out of their childhood bedroom to go to university, rather than vandalising a pied-a-terre in town while maintaining a teddy-bear strewn place in the country, but would this be such a bad thing?

    A missed opportunity as far as I can see. We shouldn’t be fighting for the right to stagnate.

  • John Ó Néill

    Based on the stats mentioned at the Assembly committee in June and the 2009-10 HESA stats, there are only 500-600 students from England, Scotland and Wales who are expected to bridge that gap of £5m. In effect, 900 students are needed if they are paying the differential (i.e up to the max of £9,000 over the £3,465 local rate). So recruitment from that source would have to be upped significantly to even make the target – which seems counter-intuitive as you’d imagine that it would be more realistic to charge significantly enough below the £9,000 to make it marketable – but even £8,000 means that up 1,100 students would need to be attracted (i.e. double the current numbers). Either way, the additional students would have to be delivered via increasing the number of 3rd level places (which has a cost as well), or, taking less local students (ironically), or oddly, less international students (who are the real educational paydirt both in terms of academic income and driving additional revenues to the local economy).

    Even off the back of an envelope the figure don’t really look like they would add up for this to make any sense.

  • ayeYerMa

    Totally botched up thinking.

    Apart from the fact that this just doesn’t add-up economically, what we have here is effectively discrimination against the rest of the UK in favour of the rest of Europe (including the Republic). If the Unionist parties actually are Unionist (and not merely “Unionist” in name only) then they will block any legislation to introduce this.*

    If the European legal challenge to what both the SNP and now Alliance are proposing fails, then a second step is for some of our local MPs to propose legislation in Westminster prohibiting differential charging for fees to fellow Britons (would actually sound better coming from a NI MP than an English one) – this would be merely bringing British law in line with the same European law. If the nats are then still moaning, then they can be told to campaign for the UK to leave the EU, so that we could then introduce fair differential intra-UK regional charging if we so desired.

    *No doubt the DUP will fail spectacularly on this issue – might as well re-label itself UPP or “Ulster Parochial Party” already.

  • SethS

    It’s hard to see how this can actually work. On the one hand why would 400 extra students come here to pay additional fees.

    On the other hand it is blatant discrimination. Not sure I’d want to be the one preparing the equality impact assessment for this policy.

  • The problem for unionists is that while it might stick in their ideological craw to charge GB students more, would they really risk forcing local NI students – ie, their potential voters – to pay much larger fees?

    Since the DUP back Alliance’s position, the UUP may indeed do this. But if any legal challenge to Farry’s proposal fails, such a move could backfire spectacularly on the UUP. Basil beware!

  • Barnshee

    A balls up like water charges a decision avoided accompanied by carefully inserting head in sand

  • mattwardman

    I’d say they are taking the Scottish option – carefully throwing the difficult decision into the future, and tactical discrimination against Scot/Welsh/Eng is the way, because they can.

    Put a mantrap for the next lot at the bottom of a hole and carefully grass over the top.

    How many of those student’s will not come now?

    Writing from Derbyshire, I’d say that the UK Government needs to grasp a few nettles.