NI set to reap benefit

December 21, 2001

Further and higher education in Northern Ireland are set for above-average funding increases following approval of a 4.6 per cent budget increase for the Department of Employment and Learning in 2002-03.

Under the proposals, backed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, further education will see an 8.2 per cent increase in 2002, from £142 million to almost £153 million, while higher education will have a 5 per cent rise from about £163 million to £171 million.

Student support will be boosted from £90 million to almost £108 million following a new student support package that includes means-tested bursaries and childcare grants.

The DEL has rejected calls to follow Scotland's lead in axeing up-front tuition fees across the board, but from this session, full-time students in certain further education and vocational courses will no longer pay fees. There is provision for a revised Individual Learning Account scheme, with proposals expected in the new year.

Just before leaving the post of employment and learning minister in a reshuffle, Sean Farren said the budget meant the DEL could "sustain planned activities next year in relation to student support and in bringing forward a strategy to meet basic skills needs".

Dr Farren has been appointed finance minister. He is replaced as employment and learning minister by Carmel Hanna, a former nurse who served on the assembly's health committee.

Esmond Birnie, chairman of the assembly committee for employment and learning, said: "Although the committee's relationship with Dr Farren has had its ups and downs since devolution in December 1999, I am sorry to see him leaving the DEL."

He added that Dr Farren was particularly concerned to see more parity of esteem between further and higher education.

Dr Birnie added that Dr Farren was committed to improving student support. He said: "Time will tell... whether his student support package will endure."

In the news, page 13

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