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Gildernew - Top-up fees will create further barriers to participation in third level education

15 October, 2003

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has said that top-up fees and loans will only create greater barriers to participation in third level education.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Top-up fees and student loans are a disastrous way to approach the strengthening of our universities and colleges. They will create greater

barriers to participation in third level education. This only weakens the diverse mix and quality of people able to afford to go to college and ultimately undermines the quality of our graduates, our research and the contribution universities and their students can make not just to our economy but the fabric of life in the Six Counties.

"It is totally unacceptable for the ability to pay to become the benchmark for accessing educational opportunity. We need to rule out top up fees and we need to scrap student loans because they have failed to address the need to open up access to our colleges and universities.

"The truth is that we should not be in this position today. There was a review of student finance undertaken by the last Assembly. Unfortunately the Minister responsible fudged the issue. Carmel Hanna created a hotch potch of measures on student finance that have failed but even worse she left the door open for the introduction student fees and a further dependency on loans.

"At the time Sinn Féin argued that there was an opportunity to resolve the issue of student finance and to deal with the issue of access to universities in a way that would support their long term growth. This was an opportunity missed. While I don't want to get to deeply into party politics I do find it ironic that members of Ms Hanna's party are now trying to portray themselves as the champions of the student body and access to third level education." ENDS

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