NUS-USI President Fergal McFerran has criticised the Executive’s latest draft Programme for Government, which was published today, for its lack of ambition on further and higher education.
President of NUS-USI, Fergal McFerran, said: “I am deeply disappointed at the draft Programme for Government’s abject lack of ambition regarding further and higher education.
“The fact this latest draft of the Programme for Government maintains that the Executive is committed to achieving a balanced economy and a more equal and creative society where people can fulfil their potential, whilst at the same time failing to acknowledge the vital importance of an accessible higher and further education system to those goals is either a careless mistake or reckless omission.
“If we are to genuinely work towards a society which gives our young people the best start in life, attracting investment and developing an economy that allows all of our citizens to share in its prosperity then we need to acknowledge that our greatest asset is, in fact, our students and our young people.
“That should be our starting point, and investing properly in higher and further education and in supporting our students to access the educational paths they need to, should be the Northern Ireland Executive’s priority.
“It is crucial that the Executive addresses the very genuine fears of students about their financial situation within its forthcoming budget. Any soundings of a rise in tuition fees here will be met with the strongest possible condemnation and opposition.
“It’s also essential that the forthcoming budget provides the resources to deliver annual inflationary increases in student support. This would a cost relatively small amount of money but would make a massive difference to students’ lives.
“Our research indicates that 58% of students regularly worry about not having enough money to meet their basic living expenses such as rent or utility bills; with almost 70% concerned about future levels of debt, to the extent that 45% of students surveyed reported that they struggled to concentrate on their studies without worrying about finances.
“Government must look at innovative ways of funding tertiary education and providing better support to students. Government should examine creating an increased regional rates system based upon ability to pay that means the richest households and businesses that can afford to pay more do so.”