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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 19:47 GMT
Student grants revival in NI
Students have protested over fees
Students have protested over fees
Grants for university students from low income families in Northern Ireland are to be reintroduced.

The province's department of further and higher education also intends to extend the number of students who are exempt from paying tuition fees.

But it has stopped short of abolishing tuition fees altogether.

The package of measures announced on Friday is expected to cost the Northern Ireland administration about 65m over three years.

Some further education college students will get non-repayable grants and have their tuition fees paid, if they are doing certain practical courses in which there is a skills shortage.

Dr Sean Farren
Dr Sean Farren: "Total fee abolition not a viable option"
Further education minister Dr Sean Farren says he wants to encourage students from low income families into college and university education.

He says he believes well off families would benefit most from the removal of university tuition fees, because already more than 70% of students are exempt from paying all or part of their fees.

Among the measures he is proposing - and which he says the Executive has already agreed to - are:

  • Means-tested non-repayable bursaries of up to about 1,500 a year for university students.

  • A child-care grant for mature students on low incomes.

  • A further increase in the number of university places.

  • A rise in the income families can earn while still being entitled to free or reduced tuition fees.

    Skills shortage

    But students from better off families will not be able to get as large loans as they can claim now.

    In further education, the focus is on encouraging people to study subjects in short supply in the workplace.

    Courses such as electrical engineering, computer software and tourism and hospitality will no longer charge fees and students who choose to study them may get grants if they are from low income families.

    Once the details have been sorted out, the department hopes most will be in place by September next year, although the grants for university students may take another year.

    Student leaders in Northern Ireland have greeted the minister's announcement as a "partial victory in restoring student grants".

    However, they said the measures would not end student poverty in the province.

    A statement from the National Union of Students/Union of Students in Ireland said it was disappointed that the system of tuition fees in higher education was to remain even though fees for many further education courses were being abolished.

    The NUS/USI also welcomed the plans for child-care grants, additional student places and the moves to simplify administration for student support.

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    See also:

    04 Apr 00 | Education
    More money for university science
    01 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
    Package to aid mature students
    12 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
    Students opting for NI universities
    03 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
    NI's universities attract poorer students
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