Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Variable Fees will damage access to Further Education

29 October, 2004

Sinn Féin Employment and Learning Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has said that variable deferred fees will damage access to Further Education after the announcement of the consultation on draft legislation.

Mr Ferguson said:

"This proposed legislation is based on the idea that the Higher Education System is a market place but the argument that education and investment in higher education must mirror economic production is far from universally accepted as good international. The University Campus is a learning place not a market place.

"The reality is that this draft legislation sends the clearest signal that the government has abdicated responsibility for Higher Education.

"The proposed deferral of educational costs until the student is earning a minimum will act as a barrier to higher education. Studies into the impact of fees and access to third level education from the United States, Australia, Canada and the BMA show that fees exacerbate inequalities in access, with a particular decline in the number of students from low income, rural, isolated and marginalised communities. This is unacceptable. The cost should be met, in a society committed change and equality, through a progressive taxation.

"It is clear that Queens and Ulster will apply the maximum £3000 per year from 2006. Based on this people studying for three years will face debt of over £34,000. This will create huge barriers to participation in third level education.

"This will weaken the diverse mix and quality of people able to afford to go to college, and also undermine the quality of our graduates, our research and the contribution universities and their students make to our economy and the fabric of life. It is totally unacceptable that the ability to pay would become the benchmark for accessing educational opportunity.

"Top up fees will also damage our Health service. Over the next decade staff shortages will get more serious unless we begin training more staff across all parts of our health service. We need more people from a working class background coming into the health professions not less. Rather than opening up access to our staff starved health service top up fees will discourage people from making the long-term financial commitment to our health service." ENDS

Note to Editors

The introduction of tuition fees in 1998 led to a 9.5% decrease in applications from people from socio-economic groups IV and V between 1997 and 2001 across all courses.

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