Northern Ireland's further and higher education minister Sean Farren has been warned that a financial boost may not be enough for a radical reform of student finance.
John Kelly, Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, welcomed the 5.9 per cent increase in funding, which swelled Dr Farren's budget to £543.6 million.
But Mr Kelly, a member of the assembly's higher and further education committee, said while any rise was welcome, the extra funds would "only enable the current levels of service" to be maintained.
"Unfortunately, the same goes for financially supporting our students. Resources are only available to continue the existing level of student support.
"The current budget allocation does not give the minister, Sean Farren, much room to bring about radical changes on the back of his review into student finances," he said. "It narrows the ground for the reintroduction of the student maintenance grant and the ending of student fees."
A spokesman for Dr Farren said the minister made it clear the increase was not intended to underwrite changes in student support and Dr Farren would bid for more funds once decisions had been made and costed.
Mr Kelly, who represents Mid Ulster, welcomed the allocation of an extra £4 million to fund the expansion of further and higher education places. But he added: "Unless we get financial support for our students right, ultimately it will not have an impact on opening up access to communities that have traditionally been excluded."
- Dr Farren has welcomed a £20 million investment in a Belfast college's new campus. The signing of the private finance initiative contract involved public and private sector funding for the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education's Millfield campus near the city centre.