The government has announced 10,000 extra places for further and higher education in Northern Ireland.
But the head of the province's largest further and higher education college has warned that students are dropping out because of tuition fees. Patrick Murphy, head of the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education, called on the new Assembly to help fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Murphy said it reflected poorly on Northern Ireland that people were being denied the opportunities that the peace process had to offer.
Assembly members face a choice, he said. "Do they want a society in which educational opportunities are for those who can afford to pay for them? Or do they want education to be open to all, regardless of purchasing power?" Mr Murphy told a graduation ceremony last weekend that fees had led a dozen students to quit their courses this academic year.
The Assembly was told that a 9 per cent funding rise over three years would lead to 8,000 extra further education places and maybe 2,000 more in higher education.
Ulster Unionist education spokesman Ken Robinson said there would also be more money to upgrade equipment in higher education.