Alternative Ulster: rest-of-UK places for just £6K

V-c vaunts budget degrees and low cost of living to boost ex-NI enrolment. David Matthews reports

September 22, 2011

The University of Ulster is looking to entice students from the rest of the UK by offering them tuition fees as low as £6,000 a year for classroom-based subjects.

Earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Executive announced that it would allow the region's two universities to charge rest-of-UK students up to £9,000 a year, while tuition fees for local students have been held at £3,465.

Ulster and Queen's University Belfast were also spared a proposed £40 million cut in their budgets on top of £28 million in "efficiency savings" as Stormont agreed to find extra money.

Richard Barnett, Ulster vice-chancellor, said that many Northern Irish students studied in cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle that are easily accessible from the region via low-cost airlines, and he saw no reason why English students could not make the reverse journey.

"We are trying to attract more (English, Welsh and Scottish students)," he said.

"It would be cheaper (for them to study in Ulster). The cost of living is less than half."

The £6,000 fee would be one of the lowest set by a UK university, although London Metropolitan University is offering some courses for even less.

Because Northern Irish universities will not receive any state funding for rest-of-UK students, numbers will be uncapped, as in Scotland.

Professor Barnett said that Ulster would charge around £8,000 a year for lab-based subjects.

However, he played down the numbers of rest-of-UK students that Ulster was looking to attract, and said that the university was not anticipating an influx of "thousands" of rest-of-UK students.

In 2009-10, just 480 full-time UK undergraduates studying in Northern Ireland were from outside the region, out of a total of 28,720.

At the time of going to press, Queen's University Belfast had yet to make a decision on what it would charge English, Welsh and Scottish students.

Although they have escaped a £40 million budget cut by the ex-ecutive, Northern Ireland's two universities still have to find £28 million of "efficiency savings".

Professor Barnett said that this would mean looking at the "distribution of subjects" across Ulster's four campuses, but he pledged to keep all campuses open.

Northern Irish undergraduates, more than 30 per cent of whom studied elsewhere in the UK in 2009-10, will now be faced with a choice between paying £3,465 fees in the region or as much as £9,000 a year in England, Scotland or Wales.

Professor Barnett said this would put "real pressure on places" as "more will want to study closer to home in Northern Ireland".

Public Interest Lawyers, the law firm preparing a discrimination case against the Scottish government over its fee policy, said Northern Ireland could have a similar case to answer.

"I don't know whether a successful challenge can be brought, but there do seem to be the same objections as in Scotland," said Jim Duffy, a solicitor at the firm.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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