A WEST Belfast student has hit out at what she brands a sea border when it comes to post-graduate educational support.
Fiona McCullough studied for her undergraduate degree at St Mary’s University College before deciding to pursue a career in Speech and Language Therapy. However, that plan was put on hold when she discovered that Student Finance would not cover the full cost of her tuition.
“I applied to do my postgraduate at Manchester Metropolitan University and I was accepted onto the course," explained Fiona. "But a few months before I was due to move, Student Finance turned me down and would only fund £5,500 towards the cost of the tuition fees. The fees alone were £9,250 per year and it was a two year course. That meant that the NI Assembly were only able to fund £2,250 per year which is not even half."
Fiona says that after researching the issue, she found out that the North is the only part of the UK where postgraduate health courses are not fully funded.
"We are at a complete disadvantage," she fumed. “I find it insulting that Diane Dodds has been kicking up a fuss about the Northern Ireland Protocol when her own department have been overseeing an effective border down the Irish Sea when it comes to education.”
Postgraduate Students from England are eligible for a loan of £11,222 towards their tuition fees and living costs. In Wales, students receive a maximum of £17,489 in loans and grants and in Scotland, post-graduate students can apply for a tuition fee loan of £5,500 which is paid directly to the university and a loan of £4,500 to assist with living costs.
However, students from the North of Ireland can only apply for a tuition fee loan of £5,500 which is paid directly to the university. They receive no assistance towards their living costs.
With most students opting to study their postgraduate course on a full-time basis, this funding model puts working class and low income students at a disadvantage, adds Fiona.
Criticism of the support provision comes as Minister Dodds this week launched a public consultation on how postgraduate finance here is funded.
The consultation seeks views on the current system of postgraduate support for the North’s students undertaking taught postgraduate study, and discusses a number of options for potential reform.
“Higher education is a vital component of any modern economy as it plays a key role in supplying the skills, knowledge and experience required by the labour market," said the Minister. “As the higher level skills and subject-specific knowledge demanded by the labour market becomes ever more acute, so must we ensure fair and equitable access to the support mechanisms which can encourage postgraduate study.
The Northern Ireland Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan Consultation opens on 26 April 2021 with the deadline for responses being 25 June 2021.
The consultation and related documents are available online.