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Drop in take up of university places across the north very worrying

5 March, 2007

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, West Tyrone Assembly election candidate, Barry McElduff has said that the drop in the number of students taking up degree courses across the North is a worrying trend and that the increasing financial burden of third level education with top up fees and additional costs is becoming a barrier to students from low income families going to University.

Mr McElduff said

"I worried about the continuing trend of falling applications for University places across the North which many believe has been caused by the introduction of student fees with some courses costing up to £3000 a term.

"The deferral of educational costs until the student is earning a minimum is also acting as a barrier to higher education. Studies into the impact of fees and access to third level education from the United States, Australia and Canada 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.

"Students fees 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.

"In some cases students studying for three years here will face debts of over £30,000. This is creating huge barriers to participation in third level education. The University Campus should be learning place not a market place." ENDS

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