Higher Education Fees
Consolidated Fund Bill
Naomi Long (Belfast East, Alliance)
No, I do not regret receiving the right hon. Gentleman's support during the election campaign. I am thankful to be here as an Alliance party Member representing its policies and not as a Liberal Democrat Member. I think that Mr Dodds is well aware of that.
In Northern Ireland, this will be a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, if a balance cannot be found between protecting Northern Ireland students who may be deterred from attending university, and underfunding our participation rates, there are serious implications for rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy, which the Government have said is a priority for them. It is hugely important that our universities in Northern Ireland are considered powerfully in this. Northern Ireland universities have some of the best participation rates among lower socio-economic groups. One of those is a Russell group university-Queen's university Belfast. Lessons could be learned from the arrangements that it has put in place to widen participation to support students into education. We should not simply dismiss this as a matter that concerns only English students without giving full consideration to students from Northern Ireland. It is hugely important that the situation in Northern Ireland is fully considered. Although there are progressive measures regarding the repayment of these fees, I cannot, on balance and in the absence of a full package, give my support to what has been put before us.