Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Posted on October 25, 2011 by stephennicholl Sometimes making a statement to the press can help a politician show that they have clearly thought through an important policy issue. Sometimes making a statement to the press shows that they haven’t really considered all of the implications of what they are saying. Over the weekend Basil McCrea expressed the desire to challenge the current situation in relation to student fees. Students in Northern Ireland will be expected to pay less than half the fees charged for students from England and Wales to attend university in Northern Ireland. Students from the Republic of Ireland will pay the same as students from Northern Ireland due to European regulations. There is no doubt that this unequal situation creates tension between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland must take note of how far we can stretch our fellow citizens in England and Wales who supplement our standard of living. However Basil’s solution of charging all UK citizens the same for studying in Northern Ireland creates its own problems. For many years Unionists have complained of a perceived brain drain as students from Northern Ireland leave to study at UK universities never to return home. Basil’s proposals will significantly increase the numbers of UK students seeking to study at Queens and the University of Ulster thereby displacing Northern Ireland students to mainland universities and reinforcing the very issue that politicians have complained about for many years. How Northern Ireland lives up to it’s responsibility to manage the resources provided to it by the UK as a whole is a major challenge and student fees, along with water rates and free prescriptions, provides an example of where we take chances with our relationship with our fellow citizens. Where Basil has identified the right issue he has suggested the wrong solution.