Irish call to ease student burden

October 13, 2000

Northern Ireland may follow Scotland's lead by urging the abolition of upfront tuition fees for full-time undergraduates.

But the higher and further education, training and employment committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly has gone beyond Scottish moves by proposing that graduates should not repay student loans until they are earning at least £20,000.

The assembly has also revived the Cubie committee proposals for a £25,000 threshold for contributions to an endowment scheme to benefit future students.

The National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland welcomed much of the committee's report, due to be finalised yesterday. It includes restoring £2,000 grants for mature students, lone parents and students with disabilities.

But the union says it is disappointed by the graduate endowment proposals, which it believes will prove administratively impossible. The Cubie committee recommended a £25,000 threshold for graduate endowment contributions, but the Scottish Executive reduced this to £10,000, saying it was tying the endowment to the loan repayment for administrative simplicity.

The committee is urging ministers to create at least another 3,000 higher education places, rising to 5,000 over the next five years, in addition to the 2,500 new places already planned.

Sean Farren, Northern Ireland's minister for higher and further education, training and employment, is expected to make a decision on the report within the next four weeks.

The Northern Ireland Assembly will shortly make spending decisions for the coming year.

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