Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Wednesday, 23 May 2012 12:55 UK

Employment and Learning Committee

The employment and learning committee approved an increase to student fees in line with inflation, on 23 May 2012.

Department for Employment and Learning official Nuala Kerr said the rise was one of the recommendations set out to address the deficit in the higher education budget.

She explained that if there was no inflationary increase, the higher education sector would face a shortfall of about £3.5m in 2013/14.

"Universities do not have the money to make up that shortfall," she said.

Ms Kerr said the proposed increase would add £110 to the maximum fee for next year bringing it to to £3,575.

She read out the programme for government's commitment to "ensure that there are no increases in student fees beyond the rate of inflation for Northern Ireland students studying here".

Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew said she was not convinced that the shortfall could not be found elsewhere.

"People are absolutely struggling, and this might seem like a small amount of money as an inflationary increase on a fee, but to add to the already very difficult and heavy burden families are facing, I feel it isn't unreasonable to suggest we could freeze the inflationary rise for a year," she said.

Vice chairman, Thomas Buchanan of the DUP, however, said the extra cost would not affect a student's family.

"We have to be clear here that this increase is not really affecting those families as such, this is a loan that's coming that's not paid back until the student has employment that's more than £15k a year," he said.

Representatives from the Western Health and Social Care Trust also briefed members on the condition management programme (CMP).

The 12-week programme is aimed at helping people cope with health conditions that are creating a barrier to work.

Occupational therapist Liz Doherty said she was working with people with anxiety, depression, musculoskeletal problems, and cardio and respiratory problems.

Members heard from Philomena McManus who had taken part in the project.

"If it wasn't for the programme, I wouldn't be here today," she said.

She explained how it had improved her confidence and self-esteem and she was now in employment working on permitted hours.

The Women's Network also appeared before the committee on the matter of concerns about funding.

Employment and learning committee membership

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